Toxic environment: Air pollution in New Delhi hit hazardous levels on Nov. 8.
Toxic environment: Air pollution in New Delhi hit hazardous levels on Nov. 8.

Image: DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

2018 has been one toxic year.

You know it, we know it, and the Oxford Dictionary knows it. The prestigious publisher has chosen their Word of the Year, and this time, it’s “toxic.” 

“The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance,” reads on online statement from the dictionary.

“In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics.”

Dictionaries like the Oxford, Merriam-Webster, Macquarie and Dictionary.com pick their words of the year based on the frequency of online lookups — last year, Oxford’s was “youthquake.” 

What made the shortlist for 2018? Gaslighting, incel, techlash, gammon, cakeism, overtourism, orbiting and of course, Big Dick Energy.

According to data collated by the dictionary, the word “toxic” saw a 45 percent rise in the number of times it’s been looked up on the Oxford Dictionary website in 2018.

But it’s not just looked up alone. Over the last year these ten habitually associated words, or collocates, were the most looked up:

  1. Chemical

  2. Masculinity

  3. Substance

  4. Gas

  5. Environment

  6. Relationship

  7. Culture

  8. Waste

  9. Algae

  10. Air

Toxic masculinity stands out, right? It’s the second most associated word people have looked up in the dictionary online. It makes sense considering the last 12 months, with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements championing the abolition of toxic masculinity, and toxic relationships (number six on the list).

Toxic chemical, however, is the most looked up. Oxford suggests this could be due to news stories of the last 12 months involving these, like the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter, and global concern over the world’s toxic chemical stockpiles.

Toxic environment could mean multiple things, from recent shifts in attitude toward harassment in the workplace to recent reports of extreme air pollution in India. The same goes for toxic culture, which could relate to workplace unrest akin to Google’s mass walkouts. 

So, you’ve made it this far, you must want to know where the word “toxic” comes from?

“The adjective toxic is defined as ‘poisonous’ and first appeared in English in the mid-seventeenth century from the medieval Latin toxicus, meaning ‘poisoned’ or ‘imbued with poison’,” reads the Oxford Dictionary’s definition.

“The medieval Latin term was in turn borrowed from the Latin toxicum, meaning ‘poison’, which has its origins in the Greek toxikon pharmakon – lethal poison used by the ancient Greeks for smearing on the points of their arrows.”

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