ADS Word of the Year is "fake news"

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The people have spoken. At the American Dialect Society annual meeting in Salt Lake City (held in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America), the 2017 Word of the Year has been selected, and it's fake news. (Yes, yes, we all know that's technically two words, just like dumpster fire, the choice for 2016. The "word of the year" can be a lexicalized phrase: see my response to Geoff Pullum on this point back in 2011.)

Quoting from the press release:

In its 28th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted for fake news as the Word of the Year for 2017. Defined in two ways, “disinformation or falsehoods presented as real news” and “actual news that is claimed to be untrue,” fake news was selected as best representing the public discourse and preoccupations of the past year.

Presiding at the Jan. 5 voting session were Grant Barrett, vice president of the American Dialect Society and co-host of the public radio show “A Way With Words,” and Jane Solomon, lexicographer for and member of the American Dialect Society’s New Words Committee.

Fake news was first considered by the American Dialect Society a year ago in the voting for the 2016 Word of the Year, but at the time its meaning was restricted to fictional or embellished stories presented as authentic news, disseminated for financial gain or for propagandistic purposes. In 2017, however, the meaning of fake news shifted and expanded, in large part due to its repeated use by President Donald Trump.

You can read the rest here, and see the winners and nominees in all the categories here.

The bomb cyclone that hit the Northeast kept me from attending LSA/ADS (breaking my streak going back to 2006), but Grant Barrett and Jane Solomon ably took the helm of the WOTY proceedings this year in my absence. My son Blake was also planning on attending so that he could present WOTY nominations from his sixth-grade class, at Academy I Middle School in Jersey City, NJ. Despite the fact that we couldn't go, the Academy I nomination of fake news for Most Likely to Succeed ended up winning that category and proceeded to be named the overall Word of the Year as well, beating out #MeToo (winner of Hashtag of the Year), alternative facts (Euphemism of the Year), and several others. Those on the scene report that Lane Greene, language columnist for The Economist and recipient of this year's Linguistics Journalism Award from the LSA, made a persuasive case for fake news that carried the day.

The Academy I sixth-graders opted for fake news as their choice for Most Likely to Succeed because it has already become a common comment in conversations among students. Interestingly enough, University of Chicago linguist Jason Riggle reports that sixth-graders in Chicago use fake news in a similar way. As he explained on the local television show Chicago Tonight (in a segment recorded before the WOTY vote), his own sixth-grade son and his friends often use fake news as a joke, "whenever anybody is accused of doing something they've obviously done." (The relevant bit starts at 2:30 in the video here.) And the children shall lead us…


  1. Ray said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 8:37 am

    I'm curious about the term "fake news media" — it seems like that term is still in play, but that it also gets shortened to "fake news", and in the process the definition of "fake news" has become one about the content, rather than the media as an institution or vehicle (ie, it's the news that's fake, not the news media)… it would be interesting to compare which people or news vehicles use the term "fake news" and which use the term "fake news media"…

  2. Ed M said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 8:54 am

    Google's ngram viewer shows an interesting pattern to the rise and fall of "fake news" since 1800. Particularly the spike just as WWII was starting.

  3. Jens B Fiederer said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

    How about also having a noun phrase of the.year, limited to noun phrases that are NOT a single word?

  4. Bessel Dekker said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 1:12 pm

    But if you look at the Google Books serving as the basis for Ngram, you (that is to say, I) get only one or two titles containing the term around 1940.

  5. Bessel Dekker said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 1:19 pm


    ‘Some years ago "fake" news in Europe was frequently referred to as " Brussels news " ; but Rome news has now put the Belgian capital's brand of intelligence in the shade. The Vatican is extremely conservative in the matter of giving out items of news. It has no need to curry favor with the press of any country by being generous in indiscretions.’

    (New Catholic World, 1902,

  6. david said,

    January 6, 2018 @ 8:55 pm

    If you run the ngram out to 2008 it's about twice as high as 1940

  7. Rebecca said,

    January 7, 2018 @ 11:18 am

    Looking through the other nominees, I was curious about "milkshake duck", a term I hadn't heard before. I'm just disappointed that it didn't arise from any actual ducks and milkshakes.

  8. David Morris said,

    January 7, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

    Is the announcement that fake news is the word of the year fake news itself?

  9. Anthony said,

    January 7, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

    Perhaps in the WWII era as now, "fake news" was just a translation of "Lügenpresse", a term beloved of the Nazis.

  10. chris said,

    January 7, 2018 @ 9:08 pm

    @David Morris: The title of this post could be interpreted that way, if instead of use/mention quotes you interpret them as actual quotes (i.e. the headline is that someone who will presumably be identified in the body of the article is describing the WOTY as fake news).

    It's interesting that the two described meanings of "fake news" are so nearly antonymical. Technically, isn't the second kind fake fake news?

  11. Adam F said,

    January 8, 2018 @ 5:59 am

    Maybe they should change the name to "term of the year" so people don't have to argue about a multiword "word"?

  12. KeithB said,

    January 8, 2018 @ 9:40 am

    I "Akeelah and the Bee", which I just saw for the first time the following exchange takes place:

    "Stop dissing me…"
    "We only use words in the dictionary here!"
    [[Akeelah goes to the big unabridged and reads out the definition for "diss".]]
    "They add words to the dictionary all the time, you know."

  13. Arthur Baker said,

    January 10, 2018 @ 1:13 am

    "Fake news" now seems to mean nothing much other than news reports Donald Trump doesn't like.

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