Collins announce Brexit as ‘Word of the Year’ – everybody sighs

Collins English Dictionary – the Bing to Oxford English’s Chrome – has revealed its ‘Word of the Year’ for Brexit2016, and it’s Brexit.

This decision demonstrates the value of choosing the right word; one that’s versatile enough to mean different things to different people.

Although everyone’s sick to the back teeth of this abominable lexical chimera, there must be some logic for why it’s gained such traction. Lexicographers estimate the upsurge in usage at around 3,400% in 2015 alone; the fastest rise ever recorded by Collins.

The first trait that’s undoubtedly contributed to Brexit’s new accolade is its ability to stand in place of more complex phrases. How grateful must journalists have been to stumble on a catchy neologism that could stand in place of phrases like:

  • ‘Britain leaving the European Union’
  • ‘UK deciding to trigger Article 50’
  • ‘Getting our sovereignty back’

The other defining factor that’s made Brexit take off is its inherent versatility. In true British style, we pillaged this word from the Greeks (well, a foreign economist who was discussing Greece at least). ‘Grexit’ became ‘Brexit’. But, that was just the first of many iterations.

Helen Newstead, Collins’ head of language content, echoed this sentiment, stating: “Brexit is arguably politics’ most important contribution to the English language in over 40 years, since the Watergate scandal gave commentators and comedians the suffix ‘-gate’ to make any incident or scandal infinitely more compelling. ‘Brexit’ is proving even more useful and adaptable.”

And, so it was that Brexit spawned a whole host of spinoffs, such as:

  • Bremain
  • Bremorse
  • Hard Brexit
  • Bremoaners
  • Brexiteers
  • Bakeit (Bake Off’s move to Channel 4)
  • Mexit (Lionel Messi’s retirement)

But, in the wake of the referendum result, Brexit set a whole new precedent. The tory mantra of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ says it all; this is a word – and a political concept – that means almost whatever you want it to mean. It’s the political equivalent of marketing language that can be used to appeal to a broader base of people (think: “This product will help you overcome the challenges in your life”).

All this shows that people will inherently veer towards language that’s succinct, accessible and versatile enough to mean exactly what they want it to – a valuable lesson for copywriters.

Before signing off on this story, I though all you seasoned wordsmiths might like to see which other words made the Collins shortlist. Here’s my pick of the best.

Honourable mentions:

  • Throw shade – what Brexiteers and Bremainers have been doing to one another
  • Mic drop – the act of making a point by suddenly leaving audio equipment at the mercy of gravity
  • Dude food – about as PC as John Lewis’ lunchboxes
  • Trumpism – means the same in the US and UK; an unwanted expulsion of hot air
  • Hygge – a new range of de-constructed, stress-inducing Scandinavian furniture
  • Sharenting – basically a DDOS attack on your Facebook contacts using pictures of kids
  • JOMO – the copywriter’s favourite emotion
  • Snowflake generation – either a throwback to ‘Frozen’ or a description of the icy, apocalyptic wasteland millennials will inhabit if Trump wins
  • Uberization – the art of making things bigger, and more Germanic

So, there you have it; one measly little award can generate a great dollop of content marketing insight. But, your portion might well be covered in a slathering of resentment at the thought of having to force-feed such words into your copy on a regular basis.