Dictionary.com's 2015 Word Of The Year Is "Identity," So Here Are 6 Times We Saw It In Action This Year
Every December, Dictionary.com selects a word that encapsulates the zeitgeist of the past year, and Dictionary.com's word of 2015 is "identity" — a fitting choice given how often identity politics have been in the news. Whether it's gender, race, or LGBT issues that got us thinking, most Americans have probably discussed identity at some point this year.
“Our data indicated a growing interest in words related to identity, as people encountered new terms throughout the year based on events tied to gender, sexuality, race, and other key issues,” said Dictionary.com CEO Liz McMillan in a press release. “Many words surrounding these topics trended or were newly added to our dictionary this year, making identity the clear front-runner as the Word of the Year.” Some of these additions include a new usage of the word "identify" for sentences like "she identifies as a woman" and a new definition of code-switching: "the modifying of one’s behavior, appearance, etc., to adapt to different sociocultural norms."
“The language trends that we saw all point to a larger shift in the way society thinks about identity as being more fluid, which was evidenced by the increase in related events and news headlines,” McMillan added. To illustrate this point, here are a few moments this year that left the country in debate or celebration over identity issues.
Years of fighting for same-sex marriage in this country came to a conclusion on June 26, when the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision declared it illegal for any state to prohibit marriages based on sexual orientation. Celebrations exploded with colorful pictures on social media, and serendipitously, LGBT pride parades kept the celebration going the following weekend.
If anyone wasn't already aware of the transgender community through celebrities like Laverne Cox and Andreja Pejic, it was impossible for them to miss Caitlyn Jenner all over TV and on the cover of Vanity Fair. Jenner's coming out sparked newfound awareness of the discrimination trans people face in this country, as well as what it means to be transgender, particularly for those who don't share Jenner's privilege, and even what it means to be a woman (because, as John Stewart mentioned, the media showed no delay in treating Jenner according to sexist double-standards).
2015 has been a huge year for women in sports, between Jen Welter becoming the NFL's first female coach and Becky Hammon becoming the first woman to coach an NBA Summer League team. Perhaps the most iconic example of victories for women athletes this year was the U.S. women's soccer team taking the Women's World Cup title. In addition to making the United States the only country to have three Women's World Cup victories, the competition also made many Americans rethink what it means to "play like a girl." This year perhaps more than any other year, we've seen endless proof that many women can perform beyond many men's capabilities.
The news this April that we might finally have a woman president gave many hope for a more equal society and sparked national discussion about whether a woman could lead this country (misguidedly) and whether we would elect one (more realistically). The constant sexism directed toward Clinton has also come to represent the misogyny women in leadership and women in general still face.
While Caitlyn Jenner's and Hillary Clinton's news showed us that our country is growing more accepting of different identities, Donald Trump's presidential candidacy has suggested the opposite. Trump's popularity serves as a sobering reminder that many still believes that Muslim immigrants are dangerous, that people of color are thugs, that it's OK to insult women based on appearance, and that vaccinations are ruining our children. This country is divided indeed.
This year, we began hearing the term "white feminism" to describe feminists who marginalize women of color, which has also sparked discussions about including queer women, trans women, women with disabilities, and, in short, all women in feminism. The issue came to a climax at this year's VMAs, when Nicki Minaj called out Miley Cyrus for tone-policing her when she tried to talk about the racist standards by which nominations are judged. This incident, like all the events on this list, exemplify how the numerous identities coming into public consciousness are both sparking conflict and, hopefully, making the country a more inclusive place.
Images: Dominic Sayers/Flickr