Posted on November 22, 2016

‘Post-Truth’ Defeats ‘Alt-Right’ as Oxford’s Word of the Year

Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, November 15, 2016

“Post-truth” has been named Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year, vanquishing a politically charged field that included “adulting,” “alt-right,” “Brexiteer,” “glass cliff” and “woke.”

The use of “post-truth” — defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” — increased by 2,000 percent over last year, according to analysis of the Oxford English Corpus, which collects roughly 150 million words of spoken and written English from various sources each month.

Katherine Connor Martin, the head of United States dictionaries at Oxford University Press, said it surged most sharply in June after the Brexit vote and Donald J. Trump’s securing the Republican nomination for president, making it an unusually global word.


“Alt-right,” seem likely to have staying power, though that term has come under semantic attack from some on the left. In recent days, those critics have stepped up arguments that it as an overly cute — perhaps even post-truth? —  euphemism for white supremacy.

Ms. Martin said that Oxford’s definition — “an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content” — was a particularly difficult one to research and write.

In general, she said, it is not used as a “simple synonym” for white supremacy, though some who embrace the term do openly acknowledge its usefulness in softening and selling extreme ideas.

“What I would say as a lexicographer,” she said, “is that in choosing whether to say ‘alt-right’ or ‘white supremacist,’ it’s important to know what you mean.”