English and Journalism Faculty, Students Select Their 2016 Words of the Year

Augustana English and Journalism Department's Words of the Year are woke and lit

It's that special time of year when houses are decorated for the holidays, families gather together and the dictionary companies and linguists reveal their Word of the Year (WOTY) selections.

If you're an Oxford Dictionaries fan, you may have seen its selection of post-truth as its WOTY. Merriam-Webster selected surreal.

For the second year in a row, students and faculty from Augustana's English and Journalism Department and the Writing Center have selected their own WOTY selections: lit and woke. Dr. Daniel Gerling, assistant professor of English and director of the Augustana Writing Center shared their findings:

"This year, the Augustana students visiting the Writing Center nominated words such as belfie, Latinx, woke, cuck, lit, normalize, whitelash, and post-fact, among others. The tutors chose lit as their 2016 Word of the Year, as the tutors found it to be loaded with meaning. To us gray-hairs, lit meant intoxicated. The tutors point out, however, that the definition has expanded to the surrounding environment meaning something akin to good or exciting or awesome. They even make the case that lit encapsulates everything woke does but more.

"The English and Journalism faculty wasn’t as impressed with lit, and instead chose woke as our 2016 Word of the Year, as it reflected the movement toward racial equality that was associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. We found woke to have a rich history in music (Erykah Badu), film (Spike Lee’s "School Daze" and "Do the Right Thing") and literature (specifically James Baldwin and Richard Wright). 

"Both the tutors and the faculty love this new project as it allows the tutors — who undoubtedly have greater access to changes in spoken language and popular culture — to reflect on these changes and validate some of them. They also love to poke fun at the faculty who, they will attest, are most unlit. The faculty are especially appreciative to learn what Netflix and chill means, what a belfie is, and other creative ways language is evolving before us. And we appreciate the opportunity to add our decidedly Midwestern voices to the conversation dominated by scholars at Oxford or on the coasts."

About the English and Journalism Department's WOTY Project

In the fall of 2015, in an effort to create another venue for dialogue between students and professors, the Writing Center and the Department of English and Journalism collaborated on a Word of the Year Project, similar to what various dictionaries and linguists were doing as a way to find a word that typified the year in some way.

The Writing Center accepted submissions for Word of the Year all fall semester and then after robust discussion and arguments supporting certain words, the tutors found consensus and chose singular they the 2015 WOTY. Singular they solves the problem of using “he or she” when the gender isn't known for a single person and makes a statement against languages confines of a cisgender binary. This choice was validated a month later when the American Dialect Society chose the same word in 2015.

The nominated words then went to the English and Journalism faculty, who chose lumbersexual, a word used to describe men who don beards, flannel shirts, rolled up jeans, and boots, but who have probably never chopped down a tree. As the department has several cultural studies scholars, we found the word to reflect a(nother) crisis in masculinity.

The same process was used this year for selecting the 2016 WOTY.