Fear of “otherness” has proved to be quite a topic of conversation this year, and you’ll find that the word xenophobia pops up often in conversations surrounding the UK’s Brexit, Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency stateside, Syrian refugees and hate crimes against our trans brothers and sisters. Indeed, according to Dictionary.com, there has been a spike of late in people looking up the word—something that has led the site to make it the “word of the year” for 2016.
The site defines xenophobia as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures or strangers,” though according to Jane Solomon, one of Dictionary.com’s lexicographers, it plans to expand its entry to include fear or dislike of “customs, dress and cultures of people with backgrounds different from our own.”
Solomon says searches for xenophobia increased by 938% between June 22-24, its largest spike in searches this year, which coincides with the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. Searches spiked yet again later that month when President Obama described Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric as “nativism, or xenophobia, or worse.”
“[A]fter the EU referendum, hundreds and hundreds of users were looking up the term every hour,” Solomon says.
Robert Reich, who served under Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton, even appears in a video on Dictionary.com in which he discusses the ramifications of xenophobia. “It’s a word not to be celebrated but to be deeply concerned about,” he says.
Dictionary.com, which is itself based in Oakland, California, began choosing a “word of the year” in 2010. Its decisions are based on search data and in-house experts.
The Oxford Dictionary also chooses a word each year, and for 2016 it went with “post-truth,” which also references the same dreary political climate in which we find today’s world.