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The Word of the Year (Vayeshev – 11/30/18)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

The Word of the Year
2018 has been a tough year: school and synagogue shootings, massive wildfires and hurricanes, more #metoo issues, and turmoil in the Oval Office and with the media. If you had to pick one word to describe the tone of this year, what would you choose?
The Oxford University Press has made their selection. Nine words made it to the top and not surprisingly, nearly all of them have negative connotations.
The Oxford Word of the Year 2018 is… toxic.
I think we can all guess why this was the word of the year and unfortunately it fits too well. “In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics. Our data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an array of contexts, such as masculinity, relationship, environment, air and culture.”[1]
Perhaps though, you were thinking of another word, was it, Gammon? Gammon was the first runner-up word. Typically used in the UK, it’s a derogatory term for an older middle-class white man whose face becomes flushed due to anger when expressing political (typically right-wing) opinions.
Gammon, the traditional British pub grub served with pineapple or a fried egg has had something of a renaissance in 2018 – though not due to any sudden food fads. Thanks to parallels drawn between the fleshy, pink meat and the visages of older, white men flushed in anger, gammon has become a derogatory term in political circles. I think gammon traversed the Atlantic this year.
Maybe you suggested Gaslighting, the action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity.
In 2018, the term gaslighting emerged from the psychotherapist’s notebook to feature widely in discussions across the public realm, aided in part by growing public sensitivity to the importance of mental health and wellbeing.
Gaslighting is not a new word, but comes from the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton – made famous by the subsequent Oscar -winning 1944 film of the same title starring Ingrid Bergman – in which a man manipulates his wife into believing that she is going insane.
I don’t know about you, but I seem to be questioning my sanity nowadays.
Perhaps you’re upset about all the privacy and data leaks lately so you suggested Techlash, a strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies, particularly those based in Silicon Valley.
A portmanteau composed of ‘technology’ and ‘backlash’, the term techlash seems to have originated in the title of an article published by The Economist in November 2013. Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and proof of Russian meddling in our Presidential election, the word has become vogue in 2018.
If you have been feeling like there’s toxicity in the air, you’re not going crazy, we’re not gaslighting you, it’s real.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons George H. Bush’s funeral is eliciting so much broad-based respect. While he wasn’t the most popular president in his time, he did hold himself with dignity and act with propriety. America is lamenting the loss of such virtues. May his memory inspire the current government to behave in a more elevated fashion.
As it is now Chanukah, the word of the week should be sacrifice. The Maccabees lived according to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dictum, “A man who does not have something for which he is willing to die is not fit to live.” Because these men and women fought against the greatest odds for the People of Israel, the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel, Judaism is alive and vibrant today. When we light the candles, let’s remember the Maccabees and think about what we can do for our religion and country.
We all look forward to a new year where “toxic” will not be its representative word. Let the detox begin with us: how we judge ourselves, our loved ones, our community. Let the respect within our community radiate outwards and purify the air.
Happy Chanukah,
R’ Neil

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