In the news: “Youthquake” is word of the year, despite lack of tremors


Youthquake. Ever heard that word before? I hadn’t either, and neither had most of the world — including a lot of ‘youths’ who are supposed to be using it. Oxford Dictionaries declared youthquake 2017’s word of the year, even though a) it’s been around since the ’60s, and b) apparently no-one seems to use it much. …

According to the OED, youthquake means (colloquially) “the series of radical political and cultural upheavals occurring among students and young people in the 1960s.” Yes, youthquake was a child of the ’60s: the portmanteau was born when the world was emerging from a period of tumultuous change after the second world war. In an editorial in Vogue US in January 1965, editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland wrote: “The year’s in its youth, the youth in its year. … More dreamers. More doers. Here. Now. Youthquake 1965.” The following year, McCalls observed that “the youthquake, as some call it, has swept both sides of the Atlantic.”

Casper Grathwohl, president of the Dictionaries Division, explained Oxford Dictionaries’ odd selection of youthquake as its word of the year: “No, it’s not an obvious choice. Many of you may even be scratching your heads. It’s true that it has yet to land firmly on American soil, but strong evidence in the UK, where it rose to prominence as a descriptor of the impact of the country’s young people on its general election, calls it out as a word on the move. It’s defined as a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people. Usage of the term in the UK increased fivefold in 2017 over 2016, including a huge spike in the second half of the year. And youthquake is traveling fast.”

Merriam-Webster named youthquake its word of the day in June 2015: listen to its podcast here.