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The VICE Guide to Right Now

We’re Feeling You Hard, Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2018

From relationships to masculinity to the bloody air we are breathing—VICE staffers reveal why ‘Toxic’ is apt to describe everything that’s wrong with our lives today.
November 26, 2018, 7:57am

The inimitable Britney Spears might have got it right way back in 2003, but ‘Toxic’ is still on our lips, with Oxford Dictionary proclaiming it the Word of the Year. After the hopeful ‘youthquake’ that made it to the top of its 2017 list, the word this year has no redeeming qualities. In many ways, like the year that has been.

Toxic—as in poisonous, venomous, virulent, noxious, dangerous—saw “a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on,” and “has been used in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses”.

Toxic upstaged several mighty contenders—all almost as dismal as ‘toxic’—to get to where it is today: from ‘BDE’ (Big Dick Energy—we were rallying behind this one) to ‘gaslighting’, ‘incel’, ‘gammon’ and ‘cakeism’, among others. But now that it’s here, we really could not think of a better way to describe the mood of the year. At VICE, each of us is relating to this word in different ways.

Here's how:

Shamani Joshi, Junior Staff Writer
“The word ‘toxic’ always seems to come up in the context of relationships for me—whether it’s a lover, friend or family. It’s when the hurt outweighs the happiness, when you’ve done so much wrong to someone that there’s no way to scrub it away, and every shred of comfort you might have felt for them disintegrates into a confusing muddle of emotions, leaving you in a place where you can’t tell what’s left from right. It’s the kind of emotional explosion you walk away from in slow-motion with scars that either make you stronger or break your spirit."

Shrishti Malhotra, Researcher
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this word is ‘toxic masculinity’ and the ways in which it has come to define our culture, be it in our homes, at workspaces or in interpersonal relationships. The Me Too movement that recently snowballed in our country has shed light on this toxic masculinity and the sense of entitlement it creates amongst urban, educated and even seemingly progressive men. Here's hoping that in the coming year, we work towards understanding how that toxicity plays out, and redefine the spaces we occupy individually and institutionally.”

Khushali Gandani, Audience Development Executive
"As a daily Mumbai local train commuter, I feel the air keeps on getting more and more toxic which pisses me off big time, makes me feel less motivated for the day, and has even affected my health several times. I felt a drastic difference when I recently travelled to Kerala where there was fresh air, less pollution, and more cautious people who care about the environment they live in."

Nandita Gupta, Head of Research
“I use toxic in a range of situations. For describing food or drinks that have a lot of artificial ingredients and/or sugar (see neon drinks at weddings, and pethas from Agra). For encounters with people who are… toxic! And most importantly, I associate it with masculinity. With every passing day I notice more and more of patriarchy—in casual jokes, social gatherings, in films. It angers me, it nauseates me. It toxicfeminifies my blood. I think toxicfeminifies should be a word. Toxicfeminify (verb): instant toxification of a person’s blood in the face of male entitlement.

Aashna Sharma, Researcher
“Toxic is what any sane conversation becomes once it hits the internet. There's no space for healthy debate here, no matter what the topic. Have an opinion on shoelaces? Think you're right? Think again, you're wrong. Oh, and your mother's a wh*re.”

Pallavi Pundir, Staff Writer
“Toxic is that city which, even after inhabiting it for almost a decade, refuses to yield and accept you. It's the kind that unnerves you—it's abrasive, it's brusque, and, worst of them all, it's extremely unkind to its women. It makes you fear the streets and its people. It makes your love for aloneness not just a faux pas, but a physical hazard. It turns its invasive gaze at you and makes you tug at your T-shirt or pull down your skirt. Lack of safety, to me, is more than just statistics; it's measured in how the system breaks you to fit its own little mould. I left Delhi a year ago and with that, the pollution-induced chest pains and my crippling fear of public spaces. That is a toxic relationship I'm glad I left behind.”

Sanskrita Patnaik, HR Associate
“Toxic to me is being rude to people and judging the other person without knowing their part of the story. I have always had trouble making peace with people who are in a habit of making sly comments. I refer to these people as toxic for the society.”

Arpita De, Associate Producer
“It's a reflection of the times that we went from Britney Spears singing 'Toxic' and making it sexy, to what it means today. From spreading toxicity inwards, to hurling it on suspecting and unsuspecting others, come to think of it, being toxic is almost a defence mechanism. A shield from the pain, and an excuse to be merciless. Isn't it?”

Pratik Patra, Social Media Manager
“I find the idea of banning ridiculous things, and telling us how we should live our lives, extremely toxic. This is indicative of not just the political climate of our country but the world at large, where, a lot of people do not have their basic rights. Our politics as also political conversations are becoming highly injurious to health.”

Noel D'souza, Intern
"The word 'Toxic' for me is when I put myself in a situation where I know what the negative outcome is going to be. I've put myself in a toxic relationship once, with lust leading me down this dark and troubled path. I became numb and felt it was what I deserved. The marks of that terrible night are imprinted on my neck to remind me of the mistakes I made. And even though people may feel that what I define as a 'toxic relationship' is pleasure for others, I beg to differ. My consent was violated. This toxic relationship and its story continue to trouble me."

Dhvani Solani, Associate Editor
“This word is spot-on for how certain things have shaped up for me over the past year. It rings especially true for a place I worked at briefly. It was a totally dysfunctional job, the kind that throws up all signs of a toxic workplace: where you are made to feel you should only feel lucky about being there, where bad attitude is commonplace, communication is negative and harsh, where the powers-that-be are not the sort you can turn to, and where you can feel it in your gut that there is something utterly off. The worst part about a toxic workplace is that it’s sometimes hard to see what it is doing to you and your mental health—it’s probably only when you step away that you realise how toxic it all really was, and that cutting the cord was one of the best things you could do for yourself, no matter how prestigious your job title was.”

On that note, please enjoy this song like it's 2003:

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