Two words that tower over 2017 socially

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Hold on to your hats, folks. It’s a youthquake — the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.

Just what is a youthquake? Pretty much like it sounds:

“A significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.”

Explaining its choice, Oxford said “youthquake” not only reflects the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2017, it has lasting potential as a word of cultural significance. If you’re still scratching your head, consider events abroad.

In April, U.K.’s conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election which triggered a strong counter response from British youth. While their Labour party didn’t get a majority, the surge in young votes created a ripple effect which spread as far as New Zealand, giving the term a decidedly political context.

But while youthquake enjoys a resurgence, it isn’t new. The 1960s Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland also used it to describe America’s cultural revolution.

“The year’s in its youth, the youth in its year. ... More dreamers. More doers. Here. Now. Youthquake 1965.”

Oxford isn’t the only one to name words of the year. Holding fast to this political theme, Merriam-Webster’s 2017 pick — representing the most online lookups — is “feminism.” Interest in the word spiked following the January Women’s March on Washington, D.C., then peaked again when Kellyanne Conway publicly said she didn’t consider herself a feminist.

So just what is feminism? Merriam-Webster’s definition is:

“The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”

“Feminism” is still in its heyday. The many headlines accusing public figures of sexual assault or harassment, as well as the “#me too” movement, have forced public discussions about where such lines are, or should be, drawn.

All that from a handful of letters strung together. Two stirring reminders that words, far beyond dictionaries and statistics, have the potential to really shake things up.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network raptly awaiting the next youthquake. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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