This story is over 5 years old.

The VICE Guide to Right Now

Fittingly, 'Xenophobia' Is’s Word of the Year

The word beat out other contenders including terror, uncertainty, bigotry, sadness (RIP Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie), and Electoral College.

Only a month more of 2016 to go. Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Every year, realistically the only dictionary anyone actually uses—other than Urban Dictionary, of course—crowns one Word of the Year. Last year, it was "identity," a nod to the discussions of gender, race, and sexuality that dominated public discourse in 2015.

This year's the Word of the Year is xenophobia, as in a "fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers." And given everything that's happened in 2016, it's not exactly a surprise win.


But doesn't just pick its Word of the Year out of a hat. In a statement, the website said it aims to choose a term that "embodies a major theme resonating deeply in the cultural consciousness over the prior 12 months." It would appear xenophobia beat out other contenders such as terror, uncertainty, bigotry, sadness (RIP Leonard Cohen, Prince, David Bowie),and Electoral College.

According to a statement from, internet users have steadily increased their interest in xenophobia since around April 2015, when there was a "massive surge in lookups". This was connected to attacks on foreign workers in South Africa. Since then, people have been getting xenophobic all over the place: particularly in the United Kingdom, in the days following that stunningly successful vote to leave the European Union.

The day after the Brexit vote, there was a 938 percent increase in people looking up "xenophobia" online—thanks to, hundreds of users learned a new word, and one which conveniently described those confusing feelings which had motivated them to surrender their EU passports.

But xenophobia's popularity continued to soar in the months after the Brexit vote. The second largest surge in lookups came in the lead up to the US Presidential race, particularly when President Obama gave a speech that described Donald Trump's political rhetoric as "nativism or xenophobia" on June 30, 2016. On November 9, the day after the election, xenophobia searches on the site spiked again.

"The pervasiveness of xenophobia in's lookup data caused us to reflect on other ways in which fear of the other has dominated popular discourse over the last 12 months," the online dictionary said in a statement. "This year in the United States we saw the rise of the alt-right, white nationalism, and other ideologies that promote hate, especially directed toward Muslims, Latinos, Jews, trans and queer communities, black America, and other non-dominant groups."

The website encouraged users to use its Word of the Day announcement as an opportunity to reflect on what they—what all of us—have done. "Despite being chosen as the 2016 Word of the Year, xenophobia is not to be celebrated," it said. "Rather it's a word to reflect upon deeply in light of the events of the recent past."

Follow Kat on Twitter