Goblin mode: What does it mean and why is it 2022's Word of the Year?

Previous winnings words have included vax, climate emergency, and selfie.

‘Goblin mode’ crowned Oxford Word of the Year 2022 in first public vote with metaverse runner-up iStock

The term “goblin mode” has been crowned Word of the Year for 2022, the first Oxford word to be voted on by the public.

The slang-term is described as “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”.

While the term was first seen on Twitter in 2009, goblin mode went viral online in February 2022.

The term rose in popularity over the months as coronavirus lockdowns began to ease and normal day-to-day life was beginning to resume.

Goblin mode began to enter common parlance in newspapers and magazines and was pushed to prominence by social media platforms like TikTok and the rise of BeReal.

According to Oxford University Press, which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, said the phrase captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life’ after Covid or those rejecting the unattainable or unsustainable lifestyle standards displayed on social media.

The phrase won by a landslide with 318,956 votes, making up 93% of the total.

Coming in second place was the term “metaverse”, meaning “a (hypothetical) virtual reality environment in which users interact with one another’s avatars and their surroundings in an immersive way, sometimes posited as a potential extension of or replacement for the internet, World Wide Web, social media”.

The hashtag #IStandWith came in third place, as it was regularly used as a means of displaying solidarity on social media. I popular example of the phrase was #IStandWithUkraine, which became prominent on Twitter from March 2022.

The term is used to reflect the feeling and events of the past year. Previous words have included vax (2021), climate emergency (2019), and selfie (2013).

At a special event to announce the 2022 Word of the Year, Ben Zimmer, American linguist and lexicographer, said: “Goblin Mode really does speak to the times and the zeitgeist, and it is certainly a 2022 expression. People are looking at social norms in new ways. It gives people the license to ditch social norms and embrace new ones.”

Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages, said: “We were hoping the public would enjoy being brought into the process, but this level of engagement with the campaign caught us totally by surprise. The strength of the response highlights how important our vocabulary is to understanding who we are and processing what’s happening to the world around us.

“Given the year we’ve just experienced, ‘Goblin mode’ resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point. It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealized, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds.

“This has been demonstrated by the dramatic rise of platforms like BeReal where users share images of their unedited selves, often capturing self-indulgent moments in goblin mode. People are embracing their inner goblin, and voters choosing ‘goblin mode’ as the Word of the Year tells us the concept is likely here to stay.”

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