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Is it any surprise that 'permacrisis' is the word of the year?
It's enough to make you want to sploot
If you're reading from Britain – or anywhere else in the world – you might have already uttered Collins English Dictionary's Word of the Year to describe the revolving door of feckless political leaders, skyrocketing energy prices, the cost of living, and the unstable geopolitical situation.
No, it's not "omnishambles." That was back in the easy breezy days of 2012 and a different dictionary (Oxford) – though the sentiment still rings true when focusing on the current incarnation of the UK government. Collins' take on the zeitgeist of 2022 is a little harder-edged: "permacrisis."
Looking back to December 2019, we seemed to be sleepwalking into permacrisis. The coronavirus lockdowns that followed kept people at home, many of them unable to work, and government furlough schemes shoveled billions into supporting them.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now the taxpayer is picking up the tab for something introduced by prime minister Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor, with the Treasury this morning warning of "inevitable" tax rises to fill a "black hole" in public finances.
This is mere weeks after Liz Truss was booted out of office for promising unfunded tax cuts without a moment's thought for the consequences, which, as it turned out, were pretty dire for the value of pound sterling. Truss's 44-day tenure as prime minister even inspired a new Register standard for time keeping.
In fact, the permacrisis gave rise to another word on Collins' shortlist: "partygate." This refers to the allegations that Boris Johnson, Truss's predecessor, had held boozy parties in Number 10 while telling Brits "you must stay at home" under COVID-19 lockdown.
Partygate – along with a generous dollop of other controversies – ultimately ended Johnson's stint as PM and continues the grand tradition of adding the suffix -gate to anything scandalous, originating from US President Richard Nixon's Watergate Hotel brouhaha in the Seventies.
Another shortlisted word tied to the permacrisis is the notion of "warm banks," which Collins defined as "places where those too poor to heat their own homes can gather in the event of a cold snap," derived from yet another grim economic indicator familiar to many – "food bank."
The rising cost of energy and living can be traced to the global effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, started February, from which we get another shortlisted word: the Ukrainian spelling of its capital city, "Kyiv." On a related note, "lawfare" was also considered – "the use (or abuse) of legal powers to silence opponents."
The permacrisis has also been marked by a "vibe shift" (a significant change in a prevailing culture or trend) – the idea that, thanks to a reevaluation of priorities brought on by the pandemic, people are less concerned with how their career is going and more focused on their quality of life. Connected to this, Collins also considered the "quiet quitting" phenomenon – which we reported on here – meaning "doing no more work than one is contractually obliged to do."
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Unusually for winter, we're now headed into the FIFA World Cup because it's being held in the blasted desert of Qatar of all places. This has been fingered for the use of "sportswashing" – the promotion of sporting events to distract from a controversial activity, which Qatari authorities have been accused of doing amid concerns for human rights and the welfare of migrant workers. This follows "whitewashing" (blotting out imperfections with a thin coat of paint), which also introduced "greenwashing" (a superficial or insincere display of concern for the environment that is shown by an organization).
Another event that hammered home the permacrisis was the death of beloved Queen Elizabeth II, which passed the British throne to King Charles III and introduced the "Carolean" era (the Latin for Charles being Carolus).
And, apropos of nothing, Collins also insisted that "splooting" is a word – "the act of lying flat on the stomach with the legs stretched out," a position widely enjoyed by domestic dogs.
The decline of the West
Though most of the time Collins and other dictionaries' Word of the Year can be seen as a bit of PR fun, tracing each entry backwards accurately depicts the gradual crumbling of society. Take a look:
|Year||Word of the Year||Definition|
|2013||Geek||If you call someone, usually a man or boy, a geek, you are saying in an unkind way that they are stupid, awkward, or weak|
|2014||Photobomb||If you photobomb someone, you spoil a photograph of them by stepping in front of them as the photograph is taken, often doing something silly such as making a funny face|
|2015||Binge-watch||If you binge-watch a television series, you watch several episodes one after another in a short time|
|2016||Brexit||The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union in January 2020|
|2017||Fake news||False, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting|
|2018||Single-use||Made to be used once only|
|2019||Climate strike||A form of protest in which people absent themselves from education or work to join demonstrations demanding action to counter climate change|
|2020||Lockdown||If there is a lockdown, people must stay at home unless they need to go out for certain reasons, such as going to work, buying food or taking exercise|
|2021||NFT||A digital certificate of ownership of a unique asset, such as an artwork or a collectible|
As you can see, back in the Teens we were having fun being binge-watching, photobombing geeks then Brexit happened – the same year Trump was voted in – and it's been downhill ever since. We gave a withering assessment of NFTs earlier this year, but thankfully Forrester thinks they will fade into the background come 2023 – if we live to see it.
Oxford, Collins' main rival in the English dictionary space, has not yet produced its own Word of the Year. Seeing how things are going, and considering the mounting trade war between global superpowers China and the USA, maybe it would be in poor taste to choose anything other than permacrisis. ®