Many dictionaries, lexicographers, and others who write about language are choosing a word of the year, so I’ve decided to join them. The Word Nerd’s word of the year for 2017 is “respect.” I define it below only in the sense in which I’ve selected it; it has other meanings as well, but I’m omitting them from this post, because they’re not the meanings of the year.
respect, v.t. to regard and treat with dignity, consideration, and honor; to recognize the rights and dignity of; to regard and treat as inherently worthy
respect, n. recognition of (someone or something’s) dignity, rights, and worth
Why choose “respect” as the word of the year for 2017? Because all of the major issues of the year have to do with respect and lack of respect. One of the words many people have suggesting is #metoo. The #metoo movement is about insisting on respect, and about looking at the many situations in which men have not accorded women respect, and in which people with power have failed to respect people with less power. #BlackLivesMatter is also a movement insisting on respect in the face of a stark lack.
Merriam-Webster selected “feminism” as the word of the year for 2017; feminism is the belief in, and action to promote, the treatment of all people with equal respect, regardless of gender. The OED chose “youthquake;” “youthquake” is about recognizing the worth and contributions of youth. “Collusion” is another word mentioned as a word-of-the-year (or “WOTY”) contender. “Collusion” means secret collaboration for illegal or dishonest purposes. In other words, “collusion” means disrespect for the law and for honor. Another suggestion is the word, “complicit.” “Complicit” means contributing to wrongdoing; involved in criminal or improper activity. Once again, this implies disrespect for the law and for generally accepted rules and norms of behavior.
Other contenders for the 2017 WOTY include “fake news” and “alternative facts.” To decry legitimate news and reporting as “fake news” is to show disrespect both for truth and for the fourth estate; it implies ignorance of the foundational importance of journalism to democracy. Similarly, the concept that one may reject inconvenient facts and substitute “alternative facts” shows a similar disrespect for truth. Both, of course, show the utmost disrespect for listeners and citizens.
In short, all too many of the events that have demanded our attention throughout 2017 have been caused by lack of respect for people and for essential institutions of democracy. May 2018 be the year in which demands for respect crescendo and achieve their goal, so that respect becomes a given for all instead of a privilege for few.
For more words of the year, see: