‘Microaggression’ top word of 2015

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Before I begin, have you checked to see what you’re supposed to be outraged about today?

See, it’s important to know, because the bulk of small talk in our times dwells on anger over etherial, untouchable matters.

That might be a red cup at a coffee shop. The comments of a mayor in a small industrial port town. The way people phrase good wishes on a holiday. Perhaps a famous person expressed an opinion in the minority of public opinion. Maybe, even maybe, someone somewhere had a bad day … and there’s video.

It seems that our culture is dominated by such matters, and by the time you’ve come to peace with one there’s a new one coming down the pike. The media and internet have an endless supply, all constructed to keep the public in a state of constant agitation.

If you want to understand the culture, you have to understand what’s happening with the language. And for the English language in 2015, tremendous change is happening all at once.

Microaggression is the Top Word of 2015, according to the Global Language Monitor of Austin, Texas. GLM reviews language used online across the world, discerning trends and changes in usage.

“The English Language is continuing a remarkable transformation not witnessed since the Bard created nearly 2000 new words during his lifetime,” said Paul J.J. Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor.

It’s not just new words, but new symbols, sentence construction and the sheer speed of change that makes this year remarkable.

PHOTO: Martha Soukup, Flickr CC

PHOTO: Martha Soukup, Flickr CC

Microaggression is an academic term that refers to the small, often unconscious offenses that people in minority groups experience at the hands of the majority culture. Offhand comments make people feel left out. Unintentional behaviors treat people of one race differently than those of another.

The term grew in usage because of the tremendous way that race and culture became dominant stories in 2015. Unfortunately, the polarization and media-fueled “outrage industry” have made it difficult for people to talk productively about this very real issue without vitriol. But the problem is not going away.

The second word on the Top Words list is “climate changing.” This subtle alteration to a well-known concept reflects that changing climate is now something actively happening, not just an abstract concept of something that will happen in the future.

Next comes “refugee” and “migrant” at three and four, respectively. I’ve said before that any year that has “refugee” on the top words list is one of great tumult. The fact that these words are separate is another political dispute: some people are fleeing political or ethnic persecution, others are simply fleeing bad economic conditions. “Migrant Crisis” is also the top phrase of 2015 according to GLM.
Final words in the top ten are “Thug,” “Trans,” “Content,” referring to a business buzzword, “Affluenza,” referring to the general malaise hanging over rich children, “Opioids,” and “Evolve.”

In this case Payack says that “evolve” is essentially replacing “flip-flopping” on the political stage.

“It never occurs until the voters first shift their views on a particular subject,” he said.

Imagine a world in which several top terms relate to political, economic and cultural persecutions and another refers to being so rich you feel sad. It shouldn’t be hard. That is our world.

The top name of 2015 should be no surprise: Donald Trump. Regardless of your opinion about “The Donald,” no one can argue his influence and impact on American politics, and the way people talk about politics. For years, American politics has become more like a sporting event than a public discourse. Trump has completed this process.

Though there are more than 7,000 languages on Earth, English is the undisputed language of the internet — giving our tongue tremendous power. What will we use our words for in 2016?

One can always hope that “Kindness” makes a comeback.

Read more about the top words of 2015 at the Global Language Monitor.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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