What you need to know about 'xenophobia,' Dictionary.com's word of the year.

And the Dictionary.com award for "Word of the Year 2016" goes to...

GIF via originbob/YouTube.

Xenophobia!

The word means a "fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers," and it has dominated the conversation so much in 2016 that it's taken the most prestigious end-of-year word-award in the land.


As Dictionary.com's blog explains of the choice, "We aim to pick a Word of the Year that embodies a major theme resonating deeply in the cultural consciousness over the prior 12 months. This year, some of the most prominent news stories have centered around fear of the 'other.'"

Unfortunately, Dictionary.com is right. 2016 has been an action-packed year for fear and/or hatred of "other" marginalized groups.

There was a massive refugee crisis that sparked a series of surprisingly high-level debates on whether "refugee" and "terrorist" could be used synonymously (they can't). There were undeniably xenophobic undertones to Britain's decision to leave the European Union. And of course...

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

...there was Donald Trump — a candidate whose campaign was peppered with one xenophobic sentiment after another, and who has helped usher in the mainstream rise of white nationalist movements like the so-called "alt-right."

That said, declaring "xenophobia" the word of the year isn't, strictly speaking, a bad thing.

For one, it shows people are interested in learning more about what exactly it is.

Photo by Evan Porter/Upworthy.

To find candidates for "Word of the Year," Dictionary.com says it looks at internal search trends. "Xenophobia" saw a spike in traffic several times in 2016. On June 24, one day after the Brexit vote, dictionary searches for the word spiked by an incredible 938%. Hundreds of people were looking up the word per hour.

A similar spike in search traffic occurred on June 29 after President Obama made a speech expressing concern over Donald Trump's political rhetoric.

Sure, some of those people might have just been looking up the spelling so they could lay it down in a decimating Scrabble move, but odds are, many were looking it up because they were hearing it thrown around a lot and wanted to know what it meant. That's a good thing.

A woman protesting xenophobic violence in South Africa in 2015. Photo by Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images.

The first step toward addressing a toxic problem is becoming personally and culturally aware of what that problem is.

When we know the word xenophobia, it becomes easier to speak out when we see it or to use it to identify our own prejudices. Xenophobia is not a word to be celebrated, but it's an important one to understand so we can all get better at stopping it.

Looking it up in the dictionary is a good place to start.

Most Shared
via James Anderson

Two years ago, a tweet featuring the invoice for a fixed boiler went viral because the customer, a 91-year-old woman with leukemia, received the services for free.

"No charge for this lady under any circumstances," the invoice read. "We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible."

The repair was done by James Anderson, 52, a father-of-five from Burnley, England. "James is an absolute star, it was overwhelming to see that it cost nothing," the woman's daughter told CNN.

Keep Reading Show less
Heroes

I live in a family with various food intolerances. Thankfully, none of them are super serious, but we are familiar with the challenges of finding alternatives to certain foods, constantly checking labels, and asking restaurants about their ingredients.

In our family, if someone accidentally eats something they shouldn't, it's mainly a bit of inconvenient discomfort. For those with truly life-threatening food allergies, the stakes are much higher.

I can't imagine the ongoing stress of deadly allergy, especially for parents trying to keep their little ones safe.

Keep Reading Show less
LUSH

Handmade cosmetics company Lush is putting its money where its mouth is and taking a bold step for climate change action.

On September 20 in the U.S. and September 27 in Canada, Lush will shut the doors of its 250 shops, e-commerce sites, manufacturing facilities, and headquarters for a day, in solidarity with the Global Climate Strike taking place around the world. Lush is encouraging its 5000+ employees "to join this critical movement and take a stand until global leaders are forced to face the climate crisis and enact change."

Keep Reading Show less
Planet
Photo by Annie Bolin on Unsplash

Recent tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have sparked a lot of conversation and action on the state level over the issue of gun control. But none may be as encouraging as the most recent one, in which 145 CEOs signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to take action at their level.

Keep Reading Show less
popular