Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year Runner-up
This article originally appeared in Real Pants on December 15, 2015.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, toxic is the word of the year.
I can see why this might be an attractive choice. Our elected—and permanently installed—world leaders seem to all be sharing the same handful of IQ points. Hatred of so many different kinds is thriving. Our slimy heroes have fallen.
We can’t trust anyone, not even Mark Zuckerberg. California is on fire. There is wind on Mars (I don’t actually know that this is bad, but it sounds bad.) Syria is bleeding. India’s smog can be seen from the moon, Donald Trump is building his wall, and Jamal Khashoggi traveled back to the US in a Ziploc bag two news cycles ago and has already been forgotten.
Look, I’m sure I’m not the first writer to point this out, but toxic is just a cheap and tired euphemism. You can buy toxic at the supermarket in the antiperspirants aisle. You can get toxic in your Christmas stocking or spread a little toxic on your banana and walnut muffin. No, the word we’re looking for isn’t toxic. It’s “frenzied leap into the abyss of our collective hopes.”
I realize this isn’t one word, but nine. But once you get past the one-word limit imposed by the people at Oxford, I think you’ll see how economically this sums up our current psychological, social, and intellectual state.
And because articles these days aren’t complete without a list of some kind, I’ll even give you five reasons why “frenzied leap into the abyss of our collective hopes” can actually improve your employment prospects as a freelance writer.
1. You no longer have to be upbeat when you write.
You no longer have to use the word “super” or “badass” except to say “what a super sad mess this is” and “who wants to read this badass article when the only thing I can think about is this frenzied leap into the abyss of our collective hopes?”
2. You can charge more for your writing, because, what the hell, we’re sinking, man, and sinking fast.
If a publisher is on the fence about what you can bring to the table as a writer, you can just pull this out: “But, listen, this is a frenzied leap into the abyss of our collective hopes we’re in. What do you really have to lose?”
3. It will just freak people out, and that will get you noticed.
I guarantee that once you smuggle “frenzied leap into the abyss of our collective hopes” into your next writing project, people will sit up and pay attention. For instance, imagine you’re writing copy for a regional real estate office. Instead of saying, “Pepperman Properties is the only name you need to know in low-yield, high-return sub-prime mortgages,” you say: “Taking a frenzied leap into the abyss of your collective hopes? Try Pepperman Properties!”
4. You’ll be among the avant-garde of wordsmiths.
About five people will read this article—not including you. This means you will be one of the first, and only, writers to add this very sexy word-of-the-year-caliber verbiage to your literary quiver. Wait, did I just say literary quiver? This is only because I’m about to take a frenzied leap into the abyss of my collective hopes.
5. You will be seen as honest and truthful, two qualities most employers respect.
If you use this phrase often enough, you will also likely get fired as a writer. Which means you can be rehired as a consultant and you yourself can propose 2019’s word of the year. Not that I’d want to jump the gun or anything, but have you got any ideas?