Oxford Dictionary word of the year 2022: what do the terms ‘goblin mode’, ‘metaverse’, and #IStandWith mean?

The public has chosen Goblin Mode as the 2022 Oxford word of the year

For the first time, the public got to choose the Oxford word of the year, with ballots cast until 2 December. The options were Metaverse, #IStandWith and Goblin Mode.

The three terms were chosen by a team of lexicographers from Oxford University Press (OUP) - the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. Opening the vote to the public felt like a significant move, as organisers said that although the world attempted to return to normality after Covid-19, it feels "more divided than ever".

The votes have been cast and ‘Goblin Mode’ was chosen by the public as the Oxford word of the year 2022. But what does it - and the other terms - mean? Here’s what you need to know.

The public has chosen Goblin Mode as the 2022 Oxford word of the yearThe public has chosen Goblin Mode as the 2022 Oxford word of the year
The public has chosen Goblin Mode as the 2022 Oxford word of the year

What does Goblin Mode mean? 

Goblin Mode - rejecting societal expectations in favour of doing what you want. Goblin Mode rocketed into our vocabulary after a false quote was posted by a Twitter user about Julia Fox’s and Kanye West’s break up. Oxford said: "Early usage dates back to 2009-10, but as we emerged from lockdowns all over the world, the phrase has been coined in rejection of returning ‘back to normal’ after a fake ‘quote’ from [Kanye West’s ex] Julia Fox brought the term back into the mainstream."

The term was chosen by 318,956 people, making up 93% of the overall vote. The president of Oxford Languages, Casper Grathwohl, said that while he and his colleagues were “hoping the public would enjoy being brought into the process”, the level of engagement had caught them “totally by surprise”.

He said: “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 idealised, 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.”

The term joins previous Oxford words of the year such as “vax” (2021), “climate emergency” (2019), and “selfie” (2013).

What does Metaverse mean? 

Metaverse - a virtual reality where people can live; work, make friends, shop, and even eat. The first recorded use of the term dates back to 1992, in the science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. This term came in second place, securing 4% of the public votes.

Oxford said: "In ‘metaverse’, we see the conceptual future brought into the vernacular in 2022. From hybrid working in VR, to debates over the ethics and feasibility of an entirely online future, usage of this word has quadrupled in October 2022 compared to the same period last year."

What does #IStandWith mean? 

#IStandWith - recognises activism and division which has characterised this year.  came in third place, and is used as an identifier for people to communicate their opinions and align their stances on specific events. Data from social media and the Oxford Corpus show the term became prominent in March 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Senior editor at OUP Fiona McPherson said that while hashtags are technically “a stylised form of word”, they are eligible for the word of the year because they are “a really important feature” of current language usage. She also noted that people have begun to refer to hashtags in spoken as well as in written English.

Discussing the first part of the 2022 selection process, McPherson and fellow senior editor Jonathan Dent revealed some of the words in contention for the shortlist, including “platty jubes” and “quiet quitting”. The three shortlisted words were identified using OUP’s data as having experienced a dramatic spike in usage as well as having “captured one of the significant preoccupations of the year”.