Collins Dictionary names ‘permacrisis’ its 2022 word of the year


LONDON — We’ve all been living in a state of permanent crisis, a “permacrisis” if you will, according to lexicographers at the U.K.-based Collins Dictionary who have anointed it the word of the year for 2022.

The portmanteau describes the feeling of “living through [a] period of war, inflation, and political instability,” and “sums up quite succinctly just how truly awful 2022 has been for so many people,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Permacrisis,” which is defined as “an extended period of instability and insecurity” by the publisher, is one of a handful of words relating to the challenges posed by climate change, the war in Europe, a cost-of-living crisis and, in many quarters, political chaos. It was first used in academic contexts in the 1970s, according to Collins, but has seen a spike in use in recent months.

“It was very apparent this year that the conversation was dominated by crisis,” Helen Newstead, language content consultant at Collins Dictionary, told The Washington Post.

Her team looks at the “Collins Corpus,” a database of 18 billion words, in making its choice, as well as taking “snapshots” at intervals throughout the year to analyze newspapers and social media among other sources, she said, to find new words and increased usage.

“Permacrisis,” Newstead said, encapsulates “lurching from one crisis to another without really drawing breath.”

“I think it does resonate … as something everyone can relate to,” she said.

“There hasn’t been a huge amount to celebrate,” she continued, noting that the word of the year captures “the way we’re all feeling at the moment, sadly.”

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In 2020, Collins picked “lockdown” as its word of the year amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Last year, it opted for “NFT,” a non-fungible token, which is a unique digital representation of a good — usually art — akin to a certificate of authenticity or a deed.

Another word to make the list this year was “Partygate,” referring to the British scandal over social gatherings held by former prime minister Boris Johnson and his colleagues at No. 10. Downing Street, in defiance of government-imposed restrictions.

“Carolean,” the formal name for the new era of King Charles III following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II in September, also is on the list.

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“Quiet quitting” also made the list and has gained popularity, according to the dictionary. It defines the movement, mostly by younger Gen Z and millennial workers, to renounce hustle culture by undertaking to work no more than contractually obliged to, and to spend more time on quality-of-life pursuits.

Newstead said the word had gone “viral” and “struck a chord,” especially after the pandemic, “when we all had a existential crisis” and sought to reshape the rules of the workplace and prioritize work-life balance.

The “cute-sounding” word “splooting” also made the dictionary’s list, denoting a position taken up by animals in the heat as they splay their legs and arms to cool down, delighting pet owners and onlookers.

Word such as “vibe shift,” “lawfare” and “sportswashing” were among others that made the Collins list.

“Language can be a mirror to what is going on in society,” Alex Beecroft, managing director of Collins Learning, said in a statement, adding that 2022 had “thrown up challenge after challenge.”

“Our list this year reflects the state of the world right now — not much good news,” Beecroft added, citing rising energy prices, severe weather and lingering impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Work will begin in the second half of next year, Newstead said, to come up with the word that defines our preoccupations in 2023.