Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year 2012


is named Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year 2012

omnishambles, noun, informal

a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations

[coined by the writers of the satirical television programme The Thick of It: from OMNI- and SHAMBLES]

13 November 2012, Oxford, UK:
Today Oxford University Press announces omnishambles as Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year 2012. Originally used in the British political comedy television series The Thick of It, omnishambles has gained momentum throughout 2012 as a word used to describe a comprehensively mismanaged situation, characterized by a shambolic string of blunders.

In a year encompassing Olympic triumph and European meltdown, the 2012 shortlist reflects what has been a year of contrasts. The shortlist, in no particular order, is:

omnishambles (winner)
Games Maker
to medal (verb)

mummy porn
second screening


Although omnishambles is still most commonly used in political contexts, usage has evolved rapidly in other contexts to describe any debacle or poorly managed situation. Omnishambles, derived from omni- (‘all’) and shambles (‘a state of total disorder’), has given rise to its own derivative, omnishambolic, indicating that potentially this is a word with staying power.

Spokesperson Susie Dent explained the decision: “The Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year is a word, or expression, that we feel has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. In the case of omnishambles, we also recognised its linguistic productivity: a notable coinage coming from the word is Romneyshambles, coined in the UK to describe US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s views on London’s ability to host a successful Olympic Games. Other spin-off terms have been largely humorous or one-off – from Olympishambles and Scomnishambles, to omnivoreshambles and Toryshambles.”

The Word of the Year need not have been coined within the past twelve months and it does not have to be a word that will stick around for a good length of time: it is very difficult to predict accurately which new words will have staying power. And while the Word of the Year has great resonance for 2012, it doesn’t mean that the word will automatically go into any Oxford dictionaries. Evidence that a word or expression will stay the course is required before it is included in an Oxford dictionary.

The Olympics

The Olympics, as an international event, was always likely to generate its own vocabulary, and as such has made a significant contribution to the language of 2012. Games Maker (a volunteer responsible for helping the public at an Olympic venue), the verb to medal (not a new term itself but given a new lease of life this year), and Mobot (a characteristic gesture as performed by the British long-distance runner Mo Farah on winning his events), were all shortlisted. Other popular words included Bolting (the victory pose assumed by the Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt), torch relay (the ceremonial carrying of the Olympic torch by a succession of torchbearers), and Jubilympics (the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee festivities considered together with the 2012 Olympic events), a word coined in the satirical comedy series Twenty Twelve.

Influence of current affairs

Beyond omnishambles, the influence of politics and current affairs remains strong on language usage this year. The catastrophic potential financial collapse in the Eurozone has been termed Eurogeddon, and recurrent headlines bring news of green-on-blue military attacks made by forces regarded as neutral. A much older word, pleb (an ordinary person, especially one regarded as being of low social status), made the shortlist after MP Andrew Mitchell allegedly insulted a Downing Street policeman by using the word in September.

Influence of technology

The impact of the technology culture is also apparent this year. Terms to describe new behaviours include the shortlisted second screening (watching television while simultaneously using a second technological screen device), and others range from selfie (a picture of oneself taken with a smartphone and then uploaded to a social media site) to unboxing (videoing the removal of a new electronic device from its box and then loading the video to the Internet). There has also been a proliferation of new words coined in social media contexts which have taken hold, from the shortlisted YOLO (an acronym of the phrase ‘you only live once’) to FOMO (the fear of missing out on a social event), bashtagging (‘using a company’s promotional hashtag on Twitter to criticize or complain about the company, rather than endorse it’), and twitchfork (an instance of a large number of Twitter users bombarding a target with criticism or abuse).

Last but not least: the mummy porn phenomenon

This year we witnessed the rapid rise to popularity of erotic fiction written for or read by women, following the publication of the Fifty Shades trilogy by E. L. James. The word mummy porn became the buzzword for the new and controversial genre of literature, following in the footsteps of chick lit (literature appealing to young women) and twit lit (literature broadcast via Twitter).

Notes for Editors and Frequently Asked Questions

Definitions for each of the shortlisted words

 omnishambles, noun, informal

  • a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations
  • [coined by the writers of the satirical television programme The Thick of It: from OMNI- and SHAMBLES] 

mummy porn, noun, informal, chiefly derogatory

  • erotic fiction of a type written for or read by women 

Games Maker, noun

  • a volunteer responsible for helping the public at an Olympic venue during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games [a proprietary term for various goods and services] 

medal, verb

  • to win a medal in a sporting event or competition by finishing first, second, or third

Eurogeddon, noun, informal

  • the potential financial collapse of the European Union countries that have adopted the euro, envisaged as having catastrophic implications for the region’s economic stability.
  • [from EURO and (ARMA)GEDDON]

green-on-blue, phrase

  • Military denoting or relating to an attack made on one’s own side by forces regarded as neutral : the shooting was the latest in a string of  green-on-blue attacks.
  • [from the use of green to indicate neutral forces and blue to indicate friendly forces in military exercises]

pleb, noun, derogatory

  • an ordinary person, especially one regarded as being of low social status.
  • [from Latin plebs ‘the common people’] 

second screening, noun

  • the practice or activity of watching television while simultaneously using a smartphone, tablet computer, laptop, or other screen device, typically in order to read about the programme being watched or post about it on a social media site 

Mobot, noun

  • a characteristic gesture as performed by the British long-distance runner Mo Farah on winning the 5,000 and 10,000 metres events at the 2012 Olympics, in which both arms are arched above the head with the hands pointing down to the top of the head to form a distinctive ’M’ shape
  • [blend of Mo (diminutive of ‘Mohamed’) and ROBOT] 

YOLO, acronym, informal

  • ‘you only live once’, typically used as a rationale or endorsement for impulsive or irresponsible behaviour


About the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year (WOTY)

Among their other activities, lexicographers at Oxford University Press track how the vocabulary of the English language is changing from year to year. Every year, a ‘Word of the Year’ is debated and chosen to reflect the ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in the US and the UK

In most years, 2012 included, the UK and US dictionary teams choose different Words of the Year. Each country’s vocabulary develops in different ways, according to what is happening both culturally and in the news, and as such the Words of the Year are usually different. The 2012 US Word of the Year is GIF.

Who chooses the Word of the Year?

The selection team is made up of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff.

When will omnishambles make its debut in Oxford’s dictionaries?

There is no guarantee that omnishambles will make it into an Oxford dictionary. Oxford’s WOTY is a word that has made its mark during the year 2012, but it may be too soon to say if it will secure longevity.  We are constantly monitoring language usage and omnishambles will remain under consideration for inclusion in Oxford’s dictionaries. For every new dictionary or online update we assess all the most recent terms that have emerged and select those which we judge to be the most significant or important and those which we think are likely to stand the test of time. More information: how we decide whether a new word should be included in an Oxford Dictionary.

Which words have been selected as UK WOTY in recent years?

Year Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year
2004 chav
2005 sudoku
2006 bovvered
2007 carbon footprint
2008 credit crunch
2009 simples
2010 big society
2011 squeezed middle
2012 omnishambles

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