Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

11 words and phrases that defined 2018: 'Flexitarian', 'backstop' and a 'Smocking Gun'

The most complex issues are sometimes best described in a single word or phrase

President Donald Trump's word of the year? 'Smocking'. Photo: Bloomberg
President Donald Trump's word of the year? 'Smocking'. Photo: Bloomberg

It’s funny how the most complex issues are sometimes best described in a single word or phrase. You might have read hundreds of articles about Donald Trump, for example, but to really grasp the full extent of how much he can undermine his own arguments, you need only see the words “smocking gun” – the misspelt phrase he tweeted earlier this year in reference to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Similarly, actor Danny Dyer’s description of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron sitting in Nice with his “trotters up”, while Brexit continues to threaten the stability of the country, was an image far more damaging than any newspaper column could ever hope to conjure up. The right word or phrase distills the vast down to its crucial components.

And so by selecting the words and phrases that cropped up most often – or which most resonated – in the past 12 months, you can start to reflect upon, and perhaps better understand, the world as it is today.

From politics to technology and dancing to diets, here are the 11 words and phrases that defined 2018.

1. Flexitarian

Is the planetary health diet the way to save lives, and the world?. Getty Images
Eat less meat each week, become a flexitarian

When it comes to dieting, it seems you really can have it all. The flexitarian diet is largely plant-based but you are allowed the occasional bit of meat and fish. Not only is this likely to be better for you, cutting back on meat also helps to save the planet, as less livestock means less greenhouse gas. The Guardian wrote about flexitarianism as far back as 2013 (of course it did) but 2018 was the year the popularity of the diet spiked, as more and more of us face up to the impact a meat-heavy diet has on the planet.

It’s all pretty terrifying – just not quite terrifying enough for us to cut the burgers out altogether, hence the 'flexi'.

2. Gaslight

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Dan Wooller/REX/Shutterstock (4795875ae) Seann Walsh and Rebecca Humphries (The PA) 'Temple' play afterparty, London, Britain - 27 May 2015
Seann Walsh and Rebecca Humphries. Photo: Rex

To gaslight someone is to manipulate them into doubting themselves and their sanity; it often occurs within personal relationships – “Oh come on, I never said that.” Following the #MeToo movement, more and more people have spoken out about this form of psychological manipulation.

In October, comedian Seann Walsh, who at the time was competing on the UK television show Strictly Come Dancing, was accused of gaslighting his now ex-girlfriend Rebecca Humphries. Humphries alleges that, when she raised concerns about Walsh’s relationship with his dance partner Katya Jones, he called her “mental” and “a psycho”. Images then appeared in the press of Walsh kissing Jones in London.

3. Fortnite

If you haven’t seen your children this year, don’t worry, they’re probably just in their bedroom playing Fortnite, far and away the most popular video game of 2018. Fortnite, a battle royale that has 200 million players worldwide, became such a cultural phenomenon this year that it led to breathless columns in newspapers with understated headlines such as: “Help, my son’s addicted to Fortnite!” and “Fortnite damages lives of children”. In March, US rapper Drake live-streamed a video of him playing Fortnite to 635,000 people, while England footballer Dele Alli started incorporating Fortnite dances into his goal celebrations.

The computer game 'Fortnite' has been a controversial topic of conversation. Courtesy Epic Games
The computer game 'Fortnite' continued to grow in popularity in 2018. Courtesy: Epic Games

4. Flossing

Yes, yes the floss dance pre-dates 2018 (if I was younger and hipper, I’d say “don’t @ me”). But the dance move, which involves swinging your arms from side to side and from the front to the back of your body, became so ingrained in our culture that actual Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party and the least cool man on the planet, performed it, drawing comparisons with Mr Bean. There comes a tipping point in every trend and this, surely, was it. RIP the Floss, you will not be missed.

5. Smocking Gun

In a crowded field, Donald Trump’s “smocking gun” tweet emerged as the US President’s stupidest social media moment of 2018. A year on from Trump’s use of the made-up word “covfefe”, this howler completely undermined his argument (whatever that was) about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s influence on the 2016 US elections.

6. Gilets Jaunes

Yellow vest (Gilet jaune) protestors hold a French flag on the Champs Elysees in Paris, on November 24, 2018 during a protest against rising oil prices and living costs. - Police fired tear gas and water cannon on November 24 in central Paris against "yellow vest" protesters demanding French President Emmanuel Macron roll back tax hikes on motor fuel. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)
Gilet jaunes protestors on the Champs Elysees in Paris, on November 24. Photo: AFP

In November, mass demonstrations by people wearing yellow hi-vis vests started in Paris and quickly spread to other cities around the world. The gilets jaunes movement ostensibly began as a protest against rising fuel prices in France but has come to symbolise the anger felt by disenfranchised communities.

7. Backstop

If any word represents the confusion about Brexit, it’s “backstop”. Let me do my best here: the Brexit backstop is designed to ensure that, even if Britain leaves the EU with no deal next year, there will not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. When someone starts talking to you about the backstop, chances are they a) don’t know what they’re talking about b) are a politician or c) both.

8. Trotters up

When UK actor Danny Dyer appeared on British television to ask, “What’s happened to that [expletive] David Cameron, who called it [the EU referendum] on?” a nation nodded in agreement. Where was (and indeed, is) our former Prime Minister. Well, according to Dyer, “He’s in Europe, in Nice, with his trotters up.” The image, conjured up by Dyer’s, er, particular vernacular captured perfectly the feelings of a nation let down by its leaders.

9. Kid-sized Submarine

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. On Tuesday night, Boring Co. will officially open the Hawthorne tunnel, a preview of Musk's larger vision to ease L.A. traffic. Photographer: Robyn Beck/Pool via Bloomberg
Elon Musk. Photo: Bloomberg

Not just any submarine, of course, but the really, really small one that Elon Musk proposed using this summer to rescue the Thai boys trapped inside a cave. In the end, it was decided that this wacky contraption wouldn’t be needed and divers did the job instead (all 12 boys, as well as their coach were rescued).

It didn’t end there, though. After one of the divers said Musk “can stick his submarine where it hurts”, the billionaire accused him of being a “pedo”. It was all pretty ungratifying.

10. Caravan

Thousands of migrants attempted to make the 4,000km journey on foot from Central America to the US-Mexico border, with Donald Trump describing what became known as the “migrant caravan” as “an invasion”. The "caravan" seems to encapsulate the wider, abhorrent sense of "Us vs. Them", which is so pervasive around the world at the moment.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, return to Mexico after being hit by tear gas by US Customs and Border Protection
Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, return to Mexico after being hit by tear gas by US Customs and Border Protection

11. Techlash

The backlash against the massive tech companies and their billionaire owners – Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg etc. – really gathered momentum in 2018. It started in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos when George Soros questioned whether it was right that these companies have such power over public opinion and continued when it was revealed that Facebook had been guilty of manipulating elections.

Bloomberg Best of the Year 2018: Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., listens during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Bloomberg


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Updated: December 30, 2018 10:32 AM