Merriam-Webster Stays Relevant With Its 2017 Word of the Year

“Milkshake duck” is a necessary term to describe a unique element of online culture

(Melanie Tan)

Every January, the Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries choose their “Word of the Year”, taking into consideration the trends, themes, and major events that were prevalent over the past 365 days.

For 2016, Oxford awarded bestowed its annual award on “post-truth”, which it defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The term rose to prominence in the year of the unforgettable U.S presidential election. For 2017, Oxford and its primary rival, Merriam-Webster, chose “youthquake” and “milkshake duck” respectively as their words of the year.

According to Oxford, “youthquake” refers to “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” The term was first coined in 1965 by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland and was used to capture the growing youth culture and the influence that it had.

“Youthquake” certainly seems appropriate to describe the ‘60s, when the baby boomers began to move into their teen years and the era of the hippie began. But in 2017, I’m not sure that the word is still applicable. Even if it is, does it deserve to be the word of the year?

As for Merriam-Webster, “milkshake duck” is a noticeably funnier-sounding choice, but still subtly political and highly judgmental. The official definition is “a person who is initially viewed positively by the media but is then discovered to have something questionable about them which causes a sharp decline in their popularity.”

The term was first used in 2016 when it was tweeted by @pixelatedboat. The original tweet reads: “The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist.”

It’s funny, it’s odd, and it’s accurate. As real-time updates in the news media become more common across various online platforms, the need for a word which describes the phenomenon of drastically loving a public figure online and then quickly denouncing and hating them has become more apparent.

The relevance of this term, although seemingly random, is undeniable. Its randomness is part of the charm that makes it pertinent with online culture.

The internet is an extremely important part of life these days, which is why I support “milkshake duck” as the most deserving word of the year. We have no use for a term invented in the ‘60s to describe the youth of that age because today’s youth are in living a different world. We need more terms to describe our thriving online culture, and although I personally have never heard anyone use the term “milkshake duck” before, I know it’s only a matter of time before our parents start to use that word at all the wrong times and in all the wrong places, causing the younger generation to slap their foreheads and ask why the older generations can’t keep up with the lingo.

At least for now, those reading this article who plan to use Merriam-Webster’s word of the year in conversation are one step ahead of the game.

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