“Toxic” and “Justice” Make Perfect Sense for Words of the Year

We saw a lot of the former in 2018, this year let’s work on more of the latter

(Nic Laube)

Trigger warning: The following article makes reference to police brutality, racism, genocide against Indigenous people, and sexual assault and violence.

The Oxford Dictionary and Merriam-Webster have decided that the Words of the Year for 2018 are “toxic” and “justice” respectively.

Ironically, 2018 seems to have given us far too much of one and not nearly enough of the other. So why make them the words of the year? Why not one of the runners-up, like “big dick energy” or “orbiting”?

While “toxic” and “justice” seem to be diametrically opposed words, they complement each other surprisingly well. Who can say they didn’t feel a sense of justice while watching the mass male hysteria surrounding the Gillette ad condemning toxic masculinity? And who isn’t in support of justice for those calling out toxic work environments and relationships made public through the #MeToo movement?

The word “toxic” has grown from meaning something literally poisonous to include something broader and more meaningful. We now use it to talk about forces that are damaging to ourselves and to society. Toxicity within friendships or romantic relationships has become a hot topic of discussion, urging people to not only recognize the harmful effects of other people’s behaviour, but of their own as well.

We are entering a time of unprecedented self-awareness. Society is beginning to condemn willful ignorance and casually destructive behaviour, and the expectations for how we conduct ourselves are beginning to climb. Sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and overall self-serving behaviour is now often labelled “toxic”, whereas only a few years back, such practices were socially acceptable.

Naturally, after defining the bad behaviour, we want to eradicate it. This is where “justice” comes into play. Toxicity seems to be what we have, while justice is what we want.

Where is the justice for Christine Blasey Ford, Brett Kavanaugh’s rape victim? Where is the justice in not only allowing him to go unpunished, but to place him at the apex of America’s Supreme Court? Where is the justice for the countless people of colour murdered by police officers, the children being slaughtered in school shootings because of America’s non-existent gun control legislation, the murdered and missing Indigenous women of Canada; the victims of sexual assault having their clothing paraded around in court rooms to prove their fault in being raped? The irony of expecting justice from such an intrinsically flawed system seems overwhelming.

Personally, I think that “justice” has earned its place as Word of the Year for being a rallying cry that can no longer be ignored. The outcry for justice is reaching a peak in movements of people coming together to push back against social or political systems, systems which have chosen to ignore the needs of citizens for too long.

Justice is what we need to rectify the state of toxicity that we are stuck in. We need to move on from recognizing toxic behaviour to attaining justice for those who have been hurt by it.

In 2018, we finally began to understand what the word “toxic” means to us, and how to recognize it in the world around us. Now, 2019 is an even better time to figure out what “justice” means to us, and how to make it not only fundamental in our society, but accessible to everyone.