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Adam Scotti
Education

‘Youthquake’ Is the Word of the Year, But What Does It Mean?

 What word would you use to sum up the past year? 

There are a lot of options, and some might even be a bit NSFW after the year we’ve had. 

But Oxford Dictionaries has announced its word of the year , and opted for “Youthquake.” 

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They’re the first to admit that it’s not the “obvious choice” — many of us might not have even heard of it until now — but, actually, it’s a pretty great choice. 

“One word has been judged as not only reflective of the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of this past year, but as having lasting potential as a word of cultural significance,” said Oxford Dictionaries, when announcing the choice. 

But it’s by no means a recent linguistic creation. It was first coined in 1965 by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. 

“The year’s in its youth, the youth in its year,” she wrote. “More dreamers. More doers. Here. Now. Youthquake 1965.” 

Read more: This Is What 2017 Looked Like — and it Was a Tragic and Beautiful Year

She was describing the youth-led fashion and music movement of the “swinging 60s,” which saw baby boomers reject the traditional values of their parents.

Oxford Dictionaries defines “youthquake” as the “series of radical political and cultural upheavals occurring among students and young people in the 1960s.”

But, thanks to a tumultuous year, this 52-year-old word has seen a resurgence, used now to describe a “political awakening of the oft-maligned millennial generation.”

And, according to Casper Grathwohl, the company’s president of dictionaries, it’s a “word on the move” — it’s usage increased five-fold over the year.

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It’s all about young people driving political change and, fairly unsurprisingly, its use peaked around the June general election — which saw an unprecedented number of young people turning out to make sure their voices were heard. 

It saw a second peak in September when it went international. After its usage in the UK, “youthquake” was picked up in New Zealand, again to discuss young people’s engagement in politics. 

And it saw another surge in Australia, when it was used in connection with their November referendum on marriage equality.

Read more: How Young People Turned up to Vote This Time — and Why It Matters

“The word enjoyed increased and sustained usage both prior to and after the polling, setting ‘youthquake’ firmly on its way to become a fixture of political discourse,” added Grathwohl

Grathwohl has also written a blog post about the process of picking the word of the year, and it’s pretty eye-opening. 

The choice can be surprisingly controversial, and has provoked fury among linguists, such as in 2015 when the winner was the “crying with laughter” emoji. In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries crowned the word “selfie,” and in 2016, they opted for “post-truth.” 

Read more: Theresa May Wants to Know What Young People Care About — So We Asked Them

Grathwohl describes how the team also looked at picking a word for 2017 that reflected the environmental turmoil of the year — along the lines of “hurricane,” “permafrost,” or “glaciers melting” — before issuing a call to “self-styled neologists” to coin a new word for “Mother Nature’s wrath” because “we need it!”

Perhaps next year, though. 

Other options on the list were “Harveyed” in reference to Harvey Weinstein, and “#MeToo”, along with “antifa” — short for anti-fascist — and “unicorn.” 

Read more: 17 Moments That Made Us Say 'Yesss' in 2017

“We try to choose a word that reminds us about where we’ve just been, but also one that captures the zeitgeist, that defining spirit or mood of the moment,” wrote Grathwohl in the post. 

The team analyses word use from newspapers, books, blogs, and transcripts of spoken English, in deciding the winning word. 

As well as an increased usage, however, Grathwohl wrote “most importantly for me, at a time when our language is reflecting a deepening unrest and exhausted nerves, it is a rare political word that sounds a hopeful note.” 

Read more: 2017 Is Saved — the #MeToo Movement Is TIME's Person of the Year

“Hope that the damage we’ve done to our institutions will enable the next generation to rebuild netter ones,” he continued. “Hope that our polarised times are creating a more open-minded electorate that will exercise its voice in the times ahead.” 

He added: “As the ‘annus horribilis of 2017 draws to a close, a year which many of us feel we’ve barely survived, I think it’s time for a word we can all rally behind. A word we can root for an collectively empower.” 

“Wait,” he finishes, “did you just feel that? I think it’s the beginning of a ‘youthquake’.” 

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