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How 'goblin mode' became Oxford's word of the year

A cosplayer dressed as the Green Goblin poses for a photograph on arrival to attend the MCM Comic Con at ExCeL exhibition centre in London on October 28, 2022.
Isabel Infantes
AFP via Getty Images
A cosplayer dressed as the Green Goblin poses for a photograph on arrival to attend the MCM Comic Con at ExCeL exhibition centre in London on October 28, 2022.

It's mindlessly binge-watching television without worrying about the time. It's eating snacks in bed without a care about leftover crumbs. And it's wearing the same pair of pajamas all week while working from home. Welcome to "goblin mode."

The slang term is defined as a "type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations."

This year, Oxford Languages, the creator of the Oxford English Dictionary, titled "goblin mode" as the 2022 Word of the Year, meaning it best reflected the ethos and mood of the past 12 months.

People are embracing their inner goblin

The term first appeared on Twitter in 2009 but didn't go viral until 2022, according to Oxford Languages.

"It captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to 'normal life', or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media," the group wrote in a press release.

The slang particularly struck a chord with people who felt disillusioned by the third year of the pandemic and the ongoing political upheavals around the world. In response, they are rejecting societal expectations and making their own rules of how to live. The trend is marked by a departure from respectability and aesthetic. Instead, it encourages people to lean into their uncurated, self-indulgent and sometimes mischievous ways.

"People are embracing their inner goblin," said Casper Grathwohl, the president of Oxford Languages.

The 2022 Word of the Year was like no other

The Word of the Year is typically based on analyzing language data on emerging words and their popularity.

But this year, Oxford Languages incorporated a public vote into the process and asked people to cast their ballot between the top three expressions of the year: "goblin mode," "metaverse" and "#IStandWith."

More than 300,000 people voted with an overwhelming majority — about 93% — favoring "goblin mode."

Second place went to "metaverse," which refers to a "virtual reality environment in which users interact with one another's avatars and their surroundings in an immersive way, sometimes posited as a potential extension of or replacement for the internet." The word partly gained traction after Facebook's corporate parent changed its name to Meta in 2021.

The third place winner, "#IStandWith," is identified as "a way for people to communicate their opinions and align their stances on specific events." The hashtag and its variants particularly became popular in March 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.