Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year (WOTY)?

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a word, or expression, that we can see has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. Every year, candidates for Word of the Year are debated and one is eventually chosen that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.

Note that the names of people, places, or events are not suitable as Words of the Year.

How is the Word of the Year chosen?

The candidates for the Word of the Year are drawn initially from the Oxford Dictionaries New Monitor Corpus, a research programme which collects around 150 million words of current English in use each month, using automated search criteria to scan new web content. Sophisticated software allows us to identify new and emerging words on a daily basis and examine the shifts that occur in geography, register, and frequency of use.

Dictionary editors will also flag other notable words for consideration: these words may be sourced from the editors’ own reading or from conversations they’ve had. Suggestions made via the OxfordWords blog and social media are also taken into account.

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

Does the Word of the Year have to be a new word?

The Word of the Year need not have been coined within the past twelve months but it does need to have become prominent or notable during that time.

When will the Word of the Year make its debut in Oxford’s dictionaries?

While the Word of the Year has great resonance for the year in which it was chosen, there is no guarantee that the Word of the Year will make it into an Oxford dictionary. Oxford’s WOTY is a word that has made its mark during the year to date but it may be too soon to say if it will secure longevity. However, given that the two major Oxford dictionaries, Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), are comprehensively updated four times a year with the latest new and emerging words, it is possible that a Word of the Year might already be included in an Oxford Dictionary.

You can read more here: how we decide whether a new word should be included in an Oxford Dictionary.

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

Oxford Dictionaries has editorial staff based in the UK and in the US. Over the years, the UK and US dictionary teams have often chosen different Words of the Year. Each country’s vocabulary develops in different ways, according to what is happening culturally and in the news, and as such the Words of the Year can be different. Sometimes, a word captures the imagination on both sides of the Atlantic and can therefore be considered as a joint Word of the Year.

Which words have been selected as Word of the Year in recent years?

Year Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year Oxford Dictionaries US Word of the Year
2004 chav
2005 sudoku podcast
2006 bovvered carbon-neutral
2007 carbon footprint locavore
2008 credit crunch hypermiling
2009 simples unfriend
2010 big society refudiate
2011 squeezed middle
2012 omnishambles GIF (verb)
2013 selfie

Is this the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Word of the Year?

OED editors are an integral part of the Word of the Year selection team, but this Word of the Year is not exclusively chosen by the OED editors. Oxford University Press publishes many dictionaries including the OED, and the Word of the Year is selected by editorial staff from each of these dictionary teams, including editors of Oxford Dictionaries Online.

What is the difference between the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and ODO (Oxford Dictionaries Online)?

There are many different types of English dictionary, which have different types of content and coverage and are designed to serve different needs and users. The OED and the dictionaries in ODO are themselves very different. While ODO focuses on the current language and practical usage, the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time.

The dictionary content in ODO focuses on current English and includes modern meanings and uses of words. Where words have more than one meaning, the most important and common meanings in modern English are given first, and less common and more specialist or technical uses are listed below.

The OED, on the other hand, is a historical dictionary and it forms a record of all the core words and meanings in English over more than 1,000 years, from Old English to the present day, and includes many obsolete and historical terms. Meanings are ordered chronologically in the OED, according to when they were first recorded in English, so that senses with the earliest evidence of usage appear first and more recent senses appear further down the entry – like a ‘family tree’ for each word. Find out more about the main differences between the OED and ODO.

Can the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year only be one word?

Oxford Dictionaries Online defines word as “a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.”

From a dictionary-maker’s point of view, a two-word expression such as ‘squeezed middle’ (chosen as Word of the Year in 2010) is a compound and is treated as a single lexical unit, known as a headword, in the dictionary: while it technically comprises two words, it nevertheless constitutes a single distinct unit of meaning. A Word of the Year can, therefore, be two words, an acronym, or any other type of single distinct lexical unit.