Oxford Word of the Year Revealed: ‘Goblin Mode’

Every year, dictionaries declare a word of the year. Something they feel encompasses the year’s vibe. And the Oxford word

goblin mode

Every year, dictionaries declare a word of the year. Something they feel encompasses the year’s vibe. And the Oxford word of the year is often considered fairly definitive.

That’s why this year’s is raising some eyebrows. After all, it’s a little weird.

This year’s word of the year is “goblin mode.” And it was chosen by the public using popular vote.


Goblin Mode is the Word of the Year for 2022

The first question would be: “what on earth is ‘goblin mode’?”

The dictionary defines it as “a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’ – is ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.’”

“Goblin mode” first made an appearance on Twitter in 2009, but didn’t go viral until February 2022.

As pandemic lockdowns expired and “normal” life began to resume, people started using “Goblin mode” to embrace the idea that returning to “normal” was distasteful. And that 2 years of watching “perfect” lives on social media was exhausting and no longer desirable.

In short, goblin mode is for people sitting at home in their sweatpants and unvacuumed living rooms, continuing to avoid public spaces by choice now instead of necessity, and refusing to buy into the perfection of social media.

Oxford offered some examples, including, “…’Goblin mode is like when you wake up at 2am and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long t-shirt to make a weird snack, like melted cheese on saltines’, as quoted in The Guardian newspaper. More recently, an opinion piece in The Times stated that ‘too many of us… have gone ‘goblin mode’ in response to a difficult year.’

Speaking at a special event to announce this year’s approach to selecting the Oxford Word of the Year, Ben Zimmer, American linguist and lexicographer, said: ‘Goblin Mode really does speak to the times and the zeitgeist, and it is certainly a 2022 expression. People are looking at social norms in new ways. It gives people the license to ditch social norms and embrace new ones.’”

While the word itself may sound a little bit like a grungy green monster with mossy teeth and hairy ears, what it is in actuality is a rejection of complication and “Keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s a deep breath of relief and a messy bun instead of worrying about what others think, because no one has the energy to care after everything the world has gone through over the past two years.

Choosing a Word of the Year

Words of the year aren’t usually chosen by the public.

It was the first time people were given a chance to vote on the word, and they enthusiastically leapt at the opportunity.

Casper Grathwohl, President, Oxford Languages, said in a statement, “We were hoping the public would enjoy being brought into the process, but this level of engagement with the campaign caught us totally by surprise. The strength of the response highlights how important our vocabulary is to understanding who we are and processing what’s happening to the world around us.”

Grathwohl added, “Given the year we’ve just experienced, ‘Goblin mode’ resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point. It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealized, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds. This has been demonstrated by the dramatic rise of platforms like BeReal where users share images of their unedited selves, often capturing self-indulgent moments in goblin mode.”

And there’s good news. According to Grathwohl, “People are embracing their inner goblin, and voters choosing ‘goblin mode’ as the Word of the Year tells us the concept is likely here to stay.”

Past words of the year include vax in 2021, climate emergency in 2019, and selfie in 2013.

Oxford explains that the word of the year is a “word or expression reflecting the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the past twelve months, one that has potential as a term of lasting cultural significance.”

And it’s clear that the cultural significance of “goblin mode” is nothing to sneeze at.