The 12 words that have shaped the past 12 years

Cartwright is celebrating 12 years of business: a dozen years of great PR and digital work, a team of 23 really hard working people and millions of words resulting in gazillions of column inches and social media impressions. Managing director Liz Cartwright takes a look back on the 12 words that have shaped the past 12 years.

After 20-odd years in newspapers, Liz Cartwright decided to make a move to the ‘dark side’ and in 2006, set up Cartwright Communications.

The company grew quickly and I found that clients liked the ‘journalistic’ approach to PR that we adopted.

At the newsdesk, I’d seen some of the horrendous press releases and PR campaigns run by agencies and in-house teams and we kept a drawer full of the worst examples.

Over the years, our business and the PR industry has changed dramatically.

Twelve years ago, clients wanted column inches in magazines and newspapers.

Today, they want all that and more and we have quickly adapted in order to provide a full service to clients – but journalism is still at our core.

Since 2006, we have been writing, creating content, video and pictures, and of course, words are still at our core.

To celebrate the past dozen years, we decided to celebrate the best 12 words in the past 12 years – with help from the Oxford Dictionary.

I have a few of my own, of course – such as MTYBF (short for more than you bargained for – a word handed on to me by a friend), ‘custard-pied’ (ignored) and ‘shittagram’ (a strongly worded email) – which I have offered the esteemed dictionary people but they haven’t come back to me just yet.

Rest assured, if they custard-pie me, I’ll send them a shittagram and then they will get MTYBF.

The people from the Oxford Dictionary have an annual shortlist of words and then a winner is judged the best – a word which reflects the ethos, mood or preoccupations of that year and a sort of calling card of cultural significance.

Looking back to the dozen words which made it, it’s interesting to see what ‘stuck’ with the public, and what didn’t.

2017: While ‘fake news’ was the word of the year in the US, in the UK we were celebrating ‘youthquake’ (noun) and defined as a ‘significant cultural political or social change arising from the action or influence of other people’.

There were two youthquakes in 2017.

Firstly the huge support of JC (no, not him – the other one) in the snap General Election and secondly, Jezza’s performance on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.

He rabidly spat his way through a rousing performance and won rave reviews – even from NME.

And he was better than Radiohead (not difficult). I know, I was there and it was hard to resist throwing off your kagoul and singing:  Ohhh… Jeremy Corbyn.

In 2016, the word of the year was ‘post-truth’ – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

I was confused. My interpretation of post-truth, is telling my old man my intention to buy a new handbag in the sale – knowing that it is already upstairs under my bed in a John Lewis bag. I like my definition much better.

This was of course the year of The Referendum.

Enough said about that, the better.

2015’s WOTY was not what I had in mind.

For the first time ever Oxford announced the emoji, commonly known as Face with Tears of Joy, as its ‘word of the year 2015’.

The president of the Ox Dic said it was “possible to see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid fire visually focused demands of 21st century communication”.

So, I suppose it wasn’t surprising that a pictographic script like emoji stepped in to fill the gap.

“It’s flexible, immediate and infuses the tone immediately,” he said.

Well, that’s if you have your specs on mate.

As a wordsmith, I don’t much like the emoji and have never used one. I have only just recently written LOL on the end of my texts and I felt like I’d finally given in…

In 2014, the word was ‘vape’.

The Oxford Dictionary says vaping grew massively in use in 2014 and it arose to fill a gap.

I preferred ‘bae’, which was second on the shortlist.

The noun, a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner was shown no love by Oxford that year.

Nor was ‘normcore’ – a word which perfectly sums up how I dress at the weekends: elderly tracky bots and a ‘Don’t Hassle the Hoff’ sweatshirt which makes me feel warm inside – and out. (David Hasslehoff is my bae).

Word of the year in 2013 was selfie:  ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself typically one taken with a smartphone and uploaded to a social media website’.

We all like that one.

No-one wants an autograph at the stagedoor any more. We want a selfie with chosen celebrity – to put on Insta, Twitter, Snapchat – anywhere.

And the selfie is not just for the young. I was recently asked by my 86-year-old mother in law if I would oblige by appearing in one of hers – in front of a shrub at the garden centre.

What has the world come to?

In 2012, the top word was ‘omnishambles’ in the UK and ‘GIF’ in the US. Ours was better than theirs.

Omnishambles is a bit like my most recent minibreak on the east coast – ‘a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations’.

Still, we had a good time and managed to find another B & B in Cromer.

The ‘squeezed middle’ was WOTY in 2011.

This means where wages among the middle classes fail to keep up with their basic needs of weekly shops at Waitrose, a winter ski holiday in Couchavel – and Ugg slippers for the whole family, including the cat.

It think it was Millidee or Millidum who coined the phrase.

In 2010 it was ‘big society’ meaning ‘a concept whereby a significant amount of responsibility for the running of a society is devolved to local communities and volunteers’.

Not sure it’s been the most memorable.

I’d go with another from the shortlist – either upcycling (making something great out of bits of crap in the house) or vuvuzela – the really annoying ‘instrument’ used that year by the South Africans in the World Cup.

Now, who could forget that – watching the footy with the sound turned down?

In 2009, we were told ‘simples’ was the WOTY. From Compare the Meerkat dot com which punctuated and eventually ruined Coronation Street for me.

I’m not sure ‘simples’ has stood the test of time.

The price comparison site introduced Aleksandr Orlov, the Russian meerkat who invaded our living rooms. He was dressed in a smoking jacket and wore a monocle.

Who invented him? And, more importantly, what was he or she ON?

The WOTY in 2008 was ‘credit crunch’ – “a period during which there is a sudden reduction in the amount of money that banks and other lenders have available to lend”.

Of course, it was financial doom and gloom and we created other specialised phrases to sum the mood of the nation including Ninja Loan – a loan given to someone who has ‘No Income, No Job, No Assets’ and IPOD – an acronym for ‘insecure, pressured, overtaxed, and debt-ridden’.

Depressing…Shall we move on to 2007?

In 2007 while the US was celebrating the word ‘subprime’, the Brits were more focused on the environment.

‘Carbon footprint’ was the WOTY in the UK.

It actually means the ‘amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organisation, or community.’

Everyone was trying to do their bit with recycling and walking to work.

Cartwright moved into a new office in the city centre – and won a place on a major framework for public sector PR work.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair stepped down to make way for Gordon Brown. I wonder if ‘bigoted woman’ nearly made the list that year?

And here we are, the year we set up Cartwright Communications – 2006  and the word of the year was ‘bovvered’.

The word came from The Catherine Tate Show.

Lauren, a youth with attitude would shout: “Am I bovvered?” – and then this was adopted by teens all over the UK and became perhaps one of the most irritating words of all time.

Who are these people who decide WOTY?

And why was it more popular than the other shortlisted WAG (Wives and Girlfriends of the England football team).

Other flash in the pan words that year were nang, blook, flashpacking and he-tox.

Not exactly stood the test of time and nor did Catherine’s relationship with Howard from Take That.

By Liz Cartwright

Liz heads up the team and set up Cartwright Communications in 2006 after working as a journalist for more than 20 years on titles including the Nottingham Post and Daily Mail. Liz’s PR experience spans the property, professional services and public sectors and she has significant crisis communications and internal communications expertise.