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...

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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.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.