Word of the Year 2018: Shortlist

Word of the Year 2018: Shortlist

While toxic may have taken the Word of the Year title, these eight shortlisted entries were also in the running:

Big Dick Energy (BDE)


An attitude of understated and casual confidence


Big Dick Energy – or BDE, for short – fast became the 2018 descriptor du jour after an exchange on Twitter toward the end of June captured the online community’s imagination.


In a now-deleted tweet, pop icon Ariana Grande appeared to comment on the physical endowment of her then fiancé, comedian Pete Davidson. Amid the flurry of responses, Twitter user @babyvietcong used the phrase ‘exudes big dick energy’ in a joking character analysis of Davidson and the tweet promptly went viral.


The term itself appears to have been coined by another Twitter user, @imbobswaget, who published a tweet eulogizing the irreverently brilliant celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, identifying him as a possessor of ‘big dick energy’. In doing so, @imbobswaget put a name to this phenomenon and, together with @babyvietcong, inspired a host of commentary speculating as to who, truly, exudes BDE.



Though the term has its roots in the perceived confidence of the well-endowed, BDE is by no means exclusive to those with male genitalia; many women, such as Rihanna, Serena Williams, and Cate Blanchett, are among those identified as having this low-key, self-assured poise.


Consequentially, BDE has evolved from teasing entertainment to the subject of much discussion around gender in 2018. Brigid Delaney, writing for The Guardian, called it ‘in some ways … the opposite of toxic masculinity’, while Alex Abad-Santos and Constance Grady summed up the BDE hype for Vox, saying: ‘as we sort various members of society into those who have BDE and those who don’t, it ultimately says a lot about us and what we value.’




Primarily a word used in the UK, cakeism is the belief that it is possible to enjoy or take advantage of both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives at once.


A new, highly politicized layer has been added to the British’s well-known love of cake, as over the past two years ‘cake’ has become the enduring metaphor for discussion of the terms under which Great Britain will leave the European Union. 2018 has seen the neologism Cakeism come into its own.


Riffing off the proverb ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it (too)’, the idea that Britain could both have its cake and eat it – namely, retain all the perks of EU membership with none of the drawbacks of leaving – became something of a rallying cry for the pro-Brexit faction of the British government after the EU referendum in June 2016. However, it soon drew considerable public ire when a Conservative MP’s aide was photographed leaving Downing Street in November 2016 with notes reading: ‘What’s the model? Have cake & eat it.’


The metaphor endured, though it increasingly became more a vehicle for criticism than the initial optimistic grandstanding. The subsequent ‘ism’-ing of this philosophy solidified its place in the Brexit lexicon.


While earlier, one-off examples of the word can be found, the first known use of Cakeism in this context is claimed by Bonnie Greer, a writer for The New European, whose article entitled ‘The delusions of Cakeism’ was published on 15 September 2017. Since then, Cakeism has become the go-to critique for Britain’s negotiating position, with one senior EU official calling Theresa May’s 2 March 2018 landmark speech on Britain’s future economic partnership with the EU ‘still in the world of Cakeism’.


Carrying over the connotations but changing the context, this year we are beginning to see examples of the word Cakeism used in other industries, one being ‘climate cakeism’ in the insurance industry – the desire to tackle climate risks while continuing to invest in carbon intensive assets.




Typically used in the UK as a derogatory term for an older middle-class white man whose face becomes flushed due to anger when expressing political (typically right-wing) opinions.


Gammon, the traditional British pub grub served with pineapple or a fried egg (or both, if you’re lucky) has had something of a renaissance in 2018 – though not due to any sudden food fads. Thanks to parallels drawn between the fleshy, pink meat and the visages of older, white men flushed in anger, gammon has become a derogatory term in political circles.


This usage can be traced back to the night of the UK general election in 2017, when children’s author Ben Davis jokingly tweeted a photoset of nine men from the audience of BBC panel show Question Time – in which politicians and other guests answer topical questions posed by the public – calling it ‘this Great Wall of gammon’.



The term was later picked up by left-wing activists and weaponized, with many viewing gammon as an answer to insults hurled by right-wing opponents, such as ‘snowflake’ and ‘remoaner’. In May 2018, gammon rapidly gathered steam, with Davis' relatively old tweet gaining thousands of retweets, propelling the insult into the mainstream consciousness and gaining widespread media coverage. Subsequently, debate arose as to whether gammon could be considered a racist term because of its basis on skin colour, and what was once said in jest became a political hot potato.


Linguistically, the development of gammon has been of particular interest over the last year for its use as a countable form, i.e. ‘a gammon’, which is unusual to see in the original, literal meaning of an emerging sense.


Gaslighting verb


The action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity.


In 2018, the term gaslighting emerged from the psychotherapist’s notebook to feature widely in discussions across the public realm, aided in part by growing public sensitivity to the importance of mental health and wellbeing.


Gaslighting is not a new word but comes from the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton – made famous by the subsequent Oscar -winning 1944 film of the same title starring Ingrid Bergman – in which a man manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane. The title, from which the concept takes its name, is a reference to the husband’s insistence that the woman is imagining the gas lights brightening and dimming, when in reality this is part of his machinations.


In June 2018, gaslighting hit UK headlines when domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid said a contestant on the reality television show Love Island exhibited ‘clear warning signs’ for this pattern of emotional abuse, with other commentators describing the behaviour as ‘textbook gaslighting’. The word surfaced again in media circles during the year’s Strictly Come Dancing scandal, with one contestant’s then partner accusing him of engaging in gaslighting behaviour ‘countless times’ in an open letter published on Twitter.


The concept has also been applied to political contexts this year, with the term used extensively of President Donald Trump; his frequent assertions that the media are spreading 'fake news', and implications that his administration is the sole arbiter of truth, have led to Trump's presidency of the United States being compared to an abusive relationship. The term has also been applied to the Conservative government's treatment of the issue of Brexit with the UK public, and has even taken root in India, becoming part of the lexicon in the wake of the country’s own #MeToo movement, notably in discussions of campus culture at universities.


However, some psychologists are not encouraged by this increased international awareness of the dangers of gaslighting, warning that overuse of the term could dilute its potency and downplay the serious health consequences – like PTSD and depression – of such abuse.


Incel noun


A member of an online community of young men who consider themselves unable to attract women sexually. Typically, they hold views that are hostile towards men and women who are sexually active.


Incel, short for ‘involuntary celibate’, is used as a self-descriptor by members of an online subculture who deem themselves chronically unable to attract romantic or sexual partners.


Brought together on internet forums such as Reddit, these men hold that it is women who are to blame for their forced celibacy by ‘withholding’ sex. The online spaces where incels communicate – such as the /r/Incels subreddit, which had reached 40,000 members when the forum banned it in November 2017 – have consequently become hotbeds for the incitement of violent misogyny.


The term itself was originally coined over twenty years ago by a woman named Alana – in fact, Alana first proposed ‘invcel’ before shifting to the more easily pronounceable incel – who started a website for lonely men and women struggling to find love: Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project. Of course, in founding this innocent lonely hearts’ club, Alana could have no idea that the word would go on to be co-opted by a decidedly darker set and virulently radicalized online.


While such hate groups have existed online for years, it was in April 2018 that incel made front-page news worldwide; a man named Alek Minassian deliberately drove a van into pedestrians on a crowded Toronto street, killing 10 people and wounding 14 others. It was discovered that shortly before the horrific attack, Minassian had shared ‘The Incel Rebellion has already begun!’ in a now-deleted Facebook post, and namechecked Elliot Rodger, the perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista killings. Rodger, who has since been idolized by incel groups, described his own killing spree as a ‘Day of Retribution’ in a lengthy manifesto detailing his loathing of women and the society that ‘denied’ him.




The action of abruptly withdrawing from direct communication with someone while still monitoring, and sometimes responding to, their activity on social media.


The new dating buzzword for 2018, orbiting was coined by Anna Iovine in an article for the Man Repeller blog in which she described a burgeoning relationship that abruptly ended due to an all but complete withdrawal by her would-be suitor – who nevertheless persisted in engaging with Iovine’s social media profiles.


Iovine dubbed the experience orbiting after a colleague ‘poetically described this phenomenon as a former suitor '‘keeping you in their orbit” – close enough to see each other; far enough never to talk.’ The phenomenon’s ubiquity ensured the term’s rapid spread on social media, striking a chord with many twenty-first-century daters.


Unlike ‘ghosting’, in which one party in the relationship disappears without a trace, orbiting is unique to the social media age as the so-called orbiters ‘like’ and comment on posts, watch ‘stories’ on apps such as Instagram and Snapchat, or generally maintain an online presence in the subject’s life without any promise of meaningful interaction.


The naming of the practice this year has opened up debate as to whether orbiting can be considered a consciously manipulative power play or is merely symptomatic of the fast-paced, public-facing, keep-your-options-open world of modern dating.




An excessive number of tourist visits to a popular destination or attraction, resulting in damage to the local environment and historical sites and in poorer quality of life for residents.


A booming tourist trade has long been considered a highly valuable asset, however, for many, this outlook reached its limit in 2018.


Overtourism has become a heavy burden for numerous ‘must-see’ locations in recent years, with a sharp rise in international holidaymakers fuelled by budget airlines and the widespread popularity of rental platforms, like AirBnB. The resultant overcrowding has caused environmental, infrastructural, and cultural damage to a number of destinations, and directly impacted local residents’ lives as they are priced out of their homes to accommodate the tourist demand.


According to our data, use of overtourism shot up over the course of 2017, thanks in part to mass protests across Europe demanding action against the overtourism pandemic, and has subsequently emerged in 2018 as the go-to term, surpassing both ‘anti-tourism’ and ‘tourism-phobia’, which have been used to similar effect.


This year, local authorities have put increasingly stringent measures in place to regulate tourism, including rental restrictions on tourist lets in Madrid, fines for sitting in undesignated spots (along with many other offences) in Venice, and capping the number of cruise ships permitted to dock in Dubrovnik.


Meanwhile, in June, Thailand’s Maya Bay was closed to the public 18 years after it was made famous by the 2000 film The Beach due to the damage excessive numbers of tourists had inflicted on the local ecosystem. Though the closure was only intended to last four months, Songtham Sukswang, director of Thailand’s Office of National Parks, has suggested that the bay will need ‘at least’ one year to recover from the effects of overtourism.




A strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley.


Once hailed as society’s heroes, the tech giants we know and (used to) love have been braced for the oncoming techlash for several years now, but in 2018 the storm truly hit.


A portmanteau comprising ‘technology’ and ‘backlash’, the term techlash seems to have originated in the title of an article published by The Economist in November 2013, although – as often seen in the initial blending of words – the word appears hyphenated here, only later settling into its one-word state.


From the very beginning of the year, the top tier of tech has taken a battering as philanthropist George Soros attacked the monopolistic ‘menace’ of Facebook and Google at the World Economic Forum in January, and, along with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, called for increased regulation of tech products – Benioff even likening tech to tobacco, saying ‘technology has addictive qualities we have to address’.


Data privacy – or rather, the lack thereof – has taken a central role in this techlash as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw millions of people’s data harvested from Facebook and utilized by paying political campaigns to influence voters on both sides of the Atlantic, fundamentally undermined the public’s confidence in the tech industry’s ethics and ability to govern its creations.


Neither Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the United States Senate, nor the stringent, Europe-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws coming into force in May, managed to quell concerns over data privacy and the long-reaching implications for our democracy, and instead arguably served to further the public’s distaste for all things ‘data’.


This attitude has seen action taken in 2018’s growing trend of young people giving up social media – either taking a temporary break or making a more permanent cut – as such concerns over their data privacy, along with its impact on mental health, supersede the desire to be online.


Whether fears over data privacy, disinformation, anti-competitive practices, and tech’s impact on mental health can be abated by measures like Apple’s new Screen Time software or regulations like GDPR remains to be seen, but the widespread adoption of the word techlash this year indicates that the issue is at the forefront of public consciousness.