‘Goblin mode’: new Oxford word of the year speaks to the times
“Goblin mode” has been chosen by the public as the 2022 Oxford word of the year. The term, which refers to “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”, has become the first word of the year to have been decided by public vote.
Given a choice of three words (or phrases/hashtags – “word” is defined fairly loosely), narrowed down by lexicographers from Oxford University Press (OUP), more than 340,000 English speakers around the world cast their vote.
“Metaverse” was the second choice, followed by “#IStandWith”. Goblin mode was a landslide victory: it was selected by 318,956 people, making up 93%of the overall vote.
The president of Oxford Languages, Casper Grathwohl, said that while he and his colleagues were “hoping the public would enjoy being brought into the process”, the level of engagement had caught them “totally by surprise”.
“Given the year we’ve just experienced, ‘goblin mode’ resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point”, he added. “It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealised, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds. This has been demonstrated by the dramatic rise of platforms like BeReal where users share images of their unedited selves, often capturing self-indulgent moments in goblin mode.”
The winning term was first seen on Twitter in 2009, but went viral on social media in February 2022 after being tweeted in a mocked-up headline.
Goblin mode “embraces the comforts of depravity”, wrote the Guardian technology reporter Kari Paul in March, who attributed the rise in the phrase’s usage to “the pandemic’s third year and the feared launch of World War Three”.
The hashtag #goblinmode on TikTok is often used as a rebuff of the “that girl” trend, which is all about being the “best version of yourself”, ie getting up early to exercise, performing elaborate skincare routines and drinking organic green smoothies – and, of course, posting about all of this on social media.
The OUP noted that the usage of goblin mode rose in the first half of 2022, when Covid restrictions were being eased in many countries. “Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life’, or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media.”
The American linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer said: “Goblin mode really does speak to the times and the zeitgeist, and it is certainly a 2022 expression. People are looking at social norms in new ways. It gives people the licence to ditch social norms and embrace new ones.”
Goblin mode joins previous Oxford words of the year “vax” (2021), “climate emergency” (2019), and “selfie” (2013). Other dictionaries have also selected 2022 words of the year: Collins chose “permacrisis”, while Cambridge Dictionaries went for “homer,” which went viral in May thanks to the game Wordle.