What Does "Post-Truth" Mean? The Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word Of The Year Says A Lot About The State Of The World Today


It feels like this year's presidential election has taken over practically every aspect of our lives — including, it turns out, our lexicons: The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016 is the adjective "post-truth." So what does "post-truth" mean? Nothing could be more fitting to describe this year's overall global political climate and social atmosphere.

The Oxford Dictionaries in the United States and the UK annually chooses a word of the year to "reflect the passing year in language" and that accurately "captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year," according to the dictionary organization. Their editors do this by acknowledging and honoring modern colloquial speech or popular slang terms that are highly relevant to recent world events. Oh, and apparently, the word of the year can also be a phrase; for instance, 2015's was the "face with tears of joy" emoji. (Yes, really.)

But back to this year's lucky (or perhaps loaded) word, "post-truth." In 2016, use of the word post-truth increased by a whopping 2,000 percent from last year, according to a press release published on the Oxford Dictionaries' website. That's a big jump; honestly, though, it's not really surprising, considering the fact that post-truth has been most commonly used within the context of the Brexit vote earlier this year as well as our presidential election (sniff). According to the Oxford Dictionaries, "post-truth" is defined as — want to take a wild guess? — "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." Talk about the personal being political.

If you think about it, post-truth is a pretty good, all-encompassing pick by the editors. (As Bustle's Kristian Wilson noted, other words that made the shortlist include Brexiteer, alt-right, adulting, Latinx, and woke.) The Oxford Dictionaries provides a couple of examples on how to use the word, but I think I can come up with a few of my own. For instance: "The bulk of Donald Trump's campaign almost entirely relied on post-truth politics rather than the actual issues that affect all Americans." Or how about this: "In today's post-truth era, it's unfortunate that we place greater emphasis on our irrational fears and prejudices against certain groups of people instead of addressing the facts." Or even this: "This year's election was so darn post-truth, it made me feel all the feels."

It's easy to see where I'm going with this, right? In the UK, instances of xenophobia and violent hate crimes have risen in recent years, particularly against Muslims. And then, this summer, the country voted to leave the European Union. These two phenomena are likely not unrelated. The United States, meanwhile, was in the midst of a heated election cycle at the same time, and as we all know, our country just elected a man with a history full not of political experience, but rather of racially charged remarks and horribly offensive comments about women, people with disabilities, immigrants, and Muslims, just to name a few.

It's worth noting that Trump also pushed the "birther" conspiracy for years, suggesting that Obama's birth certificate was fake — and in doing so, furthering a post-truth environment where people were more concerned about the unlikely possibility that Obama wasn't born in the United States instead of issues like, say, reproductive healthcare, climate change, and... well, everything that really matters. (The birther conspiracy has been roundly debunked, by the way.) These lies have unfortunately become mainstream over time — very post-truth, indeed.

While it may feel like "post-truth" was created for the purpose of explaining 2016 without sighing quite so heavily, the word isn't exactly new. According to the Oxford Dictionaries, "post-truth" was used for the first time in a magazine essay in 1992 to describe the Iran-contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War. So it's safe to say that post-truth has been connected to political affairs ever since it was coined.

It's kind of cathartic to say "post-truth" in conversation now, knowing that one of the most concise language resources in the world understands the need to characterize everything that's happened this year. Even if it's troubling that we're living in a time where actual facts seem to matter so little that we're actually beyond them, being able to put a name to the situation is weirdly comforting; indeed, it might even help us figure out how to put ourselves on a better path. Also, I totally dig feeling like some sort of bespectacled armchair philosopher — or Sheldon Cooper — when I say it out loud. Post-truth, post-truth.

One thing's for sure: The Oxford Dictionaries definitely have the measure of where we're at right now — and where we need to go in the future.

Images: Giphy (2)