As 2017 draws to a close, we turn to language to help us mark where we have been, how far we have come, and where we are heading.
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.
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2017 is… youthquake.
The noun, youthquake, is defined as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’.
Why was ‘youthquake’ chosen?
The data collated by our editors shows a fivefold increase in usage of youthquake in 2017 compared to 2016, the word having first struck in a big way in June with the UK’s general election at its epicentre.
On 18 April, Prime Minister Theresa May, leader of the Conservatives, called a snap election triggering seven weeks of intense political campaigning. After the British public went to the polls on 8 June, headlines emerged of an unexpected insurgence of young voters.
So despite higher engagement figures among the baby boomer generation and despite Labour ultimately ending up with fewer seats than the Conservatives in the House of Commons, many commentators declared that ‘It was the young wot “won” it for Jeremy Corbyn’, and dubbed their collective actions a ‘youthquake’.
It was in September that the second, and largest, spike in usage of youthquake was recorded for the year – and a youthquake wasn’t even required to deliver this data.
Thanks to the precedent established in the UK, in New Zealand use of youthquake to discuss young people’s engagement in politics was rapidly picked up by politicians and the press alike during the country’s general election. 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.
When was ‘youthquake’ coined?
In 1965, emerging from a post-war period of tumultuous change, Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue, declared the year of the youthquake.
In an editorial in the Vogue US January edition that year, she wrote: ‘The year’s in its youth, the youth in its year. … More dreamers. More doers. Here. Now. Youthquake 1965.’
Vreeland coined youthquake – based on the pattern of ‘earthquake’ – to describe the youth-led fashion and music movement of the swinging sixties, which saw baby boomers reject the traditional values of their parents.
As in 2017, the UK was at the heart of the youthquake, with ‘the London Look’ of boutique street-style individualism taking the high fashion houses of Paris, Milan, and New York by storm to inform a new mass-produced, ready-to-wear fashion directive worldwide.
A word we can all rally behind
Sometimes a Word of the Year is selected in recognition of its arrival, but other times it is a word that has been knocking at the proverbial door and waiting to be ushered in.
Our choice of language illuminates our preoccupations, and as this tumultuous year draws to a close, our President of Dictionaries Casper Grathwohl believes that it is time for a word we can root for and collectively empower as Word of the Year – a word we can all rally behind.
In this blog post, he offers a behind-the-scenes look at the selection process for youthquake as Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2017, plus his take on a word ‘imbued with hope’ for the future: Youthquake: behind-the-scenes on selecting the Word of the Year.