Omicron, Loamy and More Words of the Year 2022: Part Two

Greg Markley


In early December 1987, I was stationed at Fort McPherson, Georgia, as an enlisted leader with a small military history unit. An Army major approved a memorandum on the spot. When he gave it to me, I saw it read “Request for Christmas” with the vital word “Party” missing. I quickly added “Party” to the memo.

I was delighted we caught the missing word; if it had gotten out someone might say, “Look at that, soldiers in Atlanta must make a special request to celebrate Christmas!” We were not worried about celebrating Christmas itself but having an office get-together. Christmas break was already authorized.

That story emphasizes the power of words and the problems that arise when key words are missing in a sentence. This week, I present part two of a two-issue study of Oxford Press’s most popular words, some new and others older but that grew in prominence in 2022. For the first time, individuals voted online and 300,000 responded. “Goblin mode” earned 93% of those votes, a stunning result for the word(s) defined as “self-indulgent, slovenly or greedy.”

“The Word of the Year is based on using evidence drawn from Oxford’s continually updated corpus of more than 19 billion words,” explained Katherine Connor Martin, product director at Oxford Languages. “Those words are gathered from news sources across the English-speaking world. The selection, according to Oxford, is meant “to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of the preceding year, while also having potential as a term of significance.

Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary, developed the idea of “skunked words.” Those words have become unusable because of disputed meanings or difficult associations. Martin of Oxford Languages notes that “We wondered if that would happen to the verb ‘trump’ but it didn’t.” She is referring to former U.S. President Donald Trump.

To review, “trump” is a common word in America with four listed uses or qualities. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a trump is a playing card of the suit chosen to rank highest. It can win a trick (or a sequence of cards forming a single round of play). Each player lays a card down, with the highest card named the winner. A second definition for a trump is “a helpful or admirable person.”

In terms of a verb, which is when a contestant “plays a trump” on a card of another suit and also when an opponent is batted down or “trumped.” As for the former president, New York Daily News reported that Donald Trump’s digital trading cards sold out despite people earlier berating the idea.

The internet-based cartoon cards depict Trump as a superhero. They sold out at a price of $99, according to the seller’s website. In addition, as mentioned by the two usage experts, the word trump (lowercase) has not been negatively affected by the abrasive Donald Trump (uppercase) or his family. No “skunking” there.

“Omicron” and “codify” are among the most used words, according to Oxford’s methods of determination. Omicron has been used since November 2021 to mark the most recent variant of the coronavirus. Curiously, “endemic” describing “a disease constantly present in a particular place” increased 874% in January lookups. “Codify,” not at all a new word, refers to the process of Congress making laws.

Codify gained renewed attention in 2022 because of three spikes in people looking it up. On May 3, lookups rocketed to 5,347% due to the leak of a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision. On June 24, it gained 1,293% of known use; that was the day abortion was outlawed. Finally, on June 30, President Joe Biden endorsed ending the filibuster to codify the right to abortion; that executive action had lookups of 830%.

Another word, “LGBTQIA,” added letters to stand for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (one’s sexual or gender identity), intersex and asexual/aromantic/agender.” Pride Month, in June, led to lookups at 1,178%. In total, LGBTQIA secured an 800% increase over 2021.

“Sentient” means “able to perceive or feel things,” while “loamy” is “consisting of loam, a soil consisting of a friable mixture of varying proportions of clay, silt and sand.” Both words grew dramatically in lookups. Sentient increased 480% after a Google engineer mistakenly indicated a chatbot had developed human-like consciousness. Due to a rash in 2022 of people finding joy in puzzling with five-letter words, loamy bounded to 4.5 million more lookups.

Next December, I plan to present Words of the Year 2023. I dedicate these word columns to the memory of Gillis Morgan, a newspaperman who died in 2018. He wrote the popular column “A Study of Words” for several newspapers and taught journalism at Auburn University. We miss seeing your byline, Gillis.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to The Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books.


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