OAKLAND, Calif, Nov. 28, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Some of the most prominent news stories this year have centered on fear of the "other" – the Brexit vote, police shootings, Syria's refugee crisis, transsexual rights, and the US presidential race. Because these stories have resonated so deeply in the cultural consciousness over the last 12 months, Dictionary.com has chosen xenophobia as its Word of the Year.
The word xenophobia, which entered the English language in the late 1800s, finds its roots in two Greek words, xénos meaning "stranger, guest," and phóbos meaning "fear, panic." Dictionary.com users' interest in the overarching themes tied to this term were evident on June 24, 2016, which marked the largest spike in lookups for xenophobia this year; this was the day after the UK voted to leave the European Union as the result of a much-debated referendum, also known as Brexit. Another search trend that was influenced by this vote was user interest in the term hate crime, which soared in the month of July as newspapers covered an increase in crimes motivated by prejudice in post-Brexit UK.
Days after the Brexit vote, the second largest surge in lookups for the term xenophobia came in relation the 2016 US presidential race. On June 29, President Obama gave a speech in which he insisted that Donald Trump's political rhetoric was not an example of populism, but of "nativism or xenophobia." Unsurprisingly, the largest spike in lookups for the term populism in 2016 occurred on June 30 as a result of Obama's speech. This year in the United States, we saw the rise of the alt-right, white nationalism, and other ideologies that promote fear or hate, especially directed toward Muslims, Latinos, Jews, trans and queer communities, black America, and other nondominant groups.
Xenophobia manifested itself in other world events over the past year as well. Immigration policies, especially in regards to Syria's refugee crisis, have been front and center in the news worldwide. Because Syria is a majority Muslim country, many criticize anti-immigration policies as Islamophobic. Users of Dictionary.com showed interest in the term burkini for the first time ever this past summer, following legislation in France that was ultimately overturned to ban burkinis, the full-coverage swimsuits favored by many Muslim women.
"Xenophobia and other words tied to global news and political rhetoric reflected the worldwide interest in the unfortunate rise of fear of otherness in 2016, making it the clear choice for Word of the Year," said Liz McMillan, CEO, Dictionary.com. "While we can never know the exact reasons why xenophobia trended in our lookups this year, this reflects a desire in our users to understand the significant discourse surrounding global events."
"Dictionary.com is right to make xenophobia the word of the year, but it is also one of the biggest threats we face," said Robert Reich, Professor at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. "It is not a word to be celebrated. It is a sentiment to be fought."
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