Thanks to the influence of Donald Trump’s campaign for President, Dictionary.com has picked xenophobia as its word of the year for 2016.
First used in English in the late 1800s, xenophobia finds its roots in two words from ancient Greek; xénos, which means “alien”, and Phóbos, the Greek god of fear. (Coincidentally, Phobos is also the name of one of Mars’s moons. The other, Deimos, was the Greek god of terror.)
The word was chosen because of the events of the past year, both in the US and the rest of the world, and also due to the frequency with which the word was searched for on Dictionary.com:
Within the recent past, we can date user interest in the term xenophobia to April 2015, when there was a massive surge in lookups that was larger than any of the peaks seen in 2016. This spike in lookups was connected to attacks on foreign workers and overall rising xenophobia in South Africa. While lookups for xenophobia in the US also rose during that time, it was lookups from Dictionary.com’s worldwide users that made this particular surge so significant.
The largest spike in our data for the term xenophobia this year occurred on June 24 with a 938% increase in lookups—that’s hundreds of users looking up the term each hour. This was the day after the UK voted to leave the European Union as the result of a much debated referendum, also known as Brexit. Another lookup trend that was influenced by the Brexit vote: user interest in the term hate crime soared in the month of July as newspapers covered an increase in crimes motivated by prejudice in post-Brexit UK. In October, the British Home Office reported a 41% increase in hate crimes the month following the EU referendum.
Soon after Brexit, the second largest surge in lookups this year for the term xenophobia leads us to the 2016 US presidential race. On June 29, President Obama gave a speech in which he expressed concern over the use of the term populism to describe Donald Trump’s political rhetoric. Obama insisted that this was not an example of populism, but of “nativism or xenophobia.” The biggest spike in lookups for the term populism occurred on June 30 as a result of Obama’s speech.
You can find more info on the Dictionary.com blog.