It’s that time once again to reveal my “word of the year” – the particular word or phrase that captures the essence of the past 12 months. It could be a word that suddenly dominated public discussions, or it could be a word that sums up the general tenor of the times.
First, a review of some other words of the year. The Oxford English Dictionary chose climate emergency due to “heightened public awareness of climate science and the myriad implications for communities around the world.”
In a similar vein, Dictionary.com tapped existential because “high-stakes events around the world involving climate change, gun violence, and democratic institutions were some of the top news stories.”
And then there’s they, the winner from Merriam-Webster, which exhibited a 313% increase in lookups this year. This simple word gained traction because it is now used as a reference to “one person whose gender identity is non-binary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers.”
Truth be told, I had actually considered they before Merriam-Webster made its announcement because I had noticed they appearing more frequently throughout my own reading. Even so, I believe I have identified an even better word to encapsulate the mood of 2019: morass.
Merriam-Webster’s first definition of morass is “marsh” or “swamp.” The second definition is “a situation that traps, confuses, or impedes.” I don’t know about you, but to me, 2019 seems the perfect combination of those two ideas.
The issue of tolls in Connecticut was one big morass, for example. Would we toll or not toll? Would we toll all vehicles or would we toll just trucks? Would the “Pro Tolls” crowd make any inroads against the entrenched “No Tolls” crowd? Answer: Who knows? As the year ends, the issue of tolls remains one big morass.
At the national level, the morass can be summed up by the impeachment drama. If ever there were a swamp of confusion and impediment, impeachment is it.
A Hartford Courant editorial appearing the day before the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump summarized the morass: “What won’t happen is any meaningful shift in perspective. Nobody’s changing their mind at this point. The polls continue to affirm the polarization that has settled over us. Politicians on both sides are playing this narrative like it’s a game of chess with the final outcome several moves down the road.”
Put simply, impeachment is the latest event sinking the entire country even deeper into a messy political morass.
Other word-of-the-year candidates deserve mention here, if only because they serve as further evidence of the growing public morass.
How about anti-vaxxer? The word has been around for about a decade, according to the blog Grammarphobia, but its popularity soared in 2019, thanks to science-doubting parents who refused to vaccinate their kids. Consequently, measles outbreaks occurred in the U.S. at a rate not seen since 1992. Gee, thanks for expanding the public-health morass, anti-vaxxers!
We could also nominate some words that Donald Trump and his supporters use to defend the president: witch hunt, hoax, and deep state. This last term is of particular note.
Crying, “Deep state!” has become a “partisan talking point in defense of almost everything President Trump does,” explains conservative writer Noah Goldberg. “It’s a warrant for widespread paranoia and hysteria. People talk as if we live in a Jason Bourne or James Bond movie, with secret deep state organizations plotting to overthrow the government or something.”
Call me naïve, but I refuse to believe that every criticism of Donald Trump is somehow connected to a shady, bureaucratic operation working to usurp national policy – which, by the way, is the literal definition of deep state. And yet, the rising popularity and misuse of the term have only added to the political morass.
So there you have it: Morass is my word of the year. One of these years, I honestly hope to choose a more positive term. But based on the reality behind this year’s word, that might take a while. Here’s hoping I’m wrong. Best wishes for 2020!
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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