Oxford Dictionaries has crowned “youthquake” as its word of 2017 in a nod to the unexpected level of youth engagement in this summer’s election in the United Kingdom.
An amalgamation of “youth” and “earthquake”, the noun is defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.”
The word was coined in the 1960s by then-Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland, to describe upheavals in fashion and music caused by Britain’s youth culture.
But an almost five-fold resurgence in usage of the word was seen between 2016 and 2017 in a different context – as a result of surprisingly high youth participation in June’s election.
Predictions of a big victory for Theresa May’s Conservative Party before the election were based partly on assumptions that most young people wouldn’t vote.
But high youth turnout in favor of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party helped the opposition party gain seats at the expense of the Conservatives, who lost their majority in Parliament.
The word “youthquake” was also used in New Zealand to describe increasing youth engagement in politics there, according to Oxford Dictionaries. The country’s new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the world’s youngest female leader at 37.
Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, described the term as a less obvious choice for Word of the Year in a statement, but asserted it to be the right one, calling it a “word on the move.”
“At a time when our language is reflecting a deepening unrest and exhausted nerves, it is a rare political word that sounds a hopeful note. Hope that our polarized times are creating a more open-minded electorate that will exercise its voice in the times ahead,” she wrote.
The other words in this year’s shortlist were: “antifa,” “broflake,” “newsjacking,” “white fragility,” “gorpcore,” “kompromat,” “Milkshake Duck,” and unicorn.
Angus Stevenson, Head of Content Development for Oxford Dictionaries, told CNN: “We also felt it struck a more positive note than some of the other words on the shortlist – as Casper said, it’s great to have a word we can rally behind.”
Some people took to Twitter to express surprise over the choice.
Every year, the US and UK teams of Oxford Dictionaries choose a word or expression “to reflect the passing year in language.”
2016’s word of the year was “post-truth,” reflecting the crisis of facts and trust in the wake of the US presidential election.