'Post-Truth' Just Became Word of the Year After Trump and Brexit

The Oxford Dictionaries saw a 2,000 percent increase in its use.

Getty Images / Maddie McGarvey

Donald Trump scored another victory this week after Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” the word of the year on Wednesday. The organization claimed that the word spiked in use during the Brexit vote and Trump’s ascendance to president of the United States, with usage showing no signs of slowing down.

“It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse,” Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, said in a statement. “Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”

Other 2016 words that made the shortlist include “adulting,” achieving mundane but necessary adult tasks, and “coulrophobia,” an extreme fear of clowns. But “post-truth” saw a large spike in use: The word, which means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” increased in usage by around 2,000 percent over the past year.

Trump’s victory has sparked a debate over how this “post-truth” world came about with some tech commentators pointing the blame at social media. The spread of fake news has allowed unsubstantiated claims from tiny blogs to receive similar coverage to that of traditional news outlets.

Britain's vote to withdraw from the European Union led to a spike in use of the word "post-truth."

Getty Images / Christopher Furlong

On Tuesday, Google said that it would stop paying ad money to fake news sites, but Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described the idea that fake news could have influenced the election as “pretty crazy.”

Possibly more concerning is what this means for the media. A widespread public apathy around reports that debunk political claims spells bad news for an industry that aims to hold power accountable. In his latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver urged viewers to take up news subscriptions and donate to non-profits. In a world where appeals to emotion trump objective facts, though, it may not be enough. Perhaps next year’s word will be “post-media.”