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Oxford's Word of the Year Is…Toxic

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The Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year is…toxic.

The British publisher defines the adjective toxic as "poisonous." The word first appeared in English in the 1650s. It came from the Latin word toxicus, meaning "poisoned."

The Latin word itself actually came from the Greek term toxon, meaning "bow." In ancient Greece, fighters with bows would put poison on the points of their arrows.

Why was toxic chosen?

Oxford chooses a Word of the Year that best describes the mood of the past year. The word also should "have lasting potential" as a term of cultural importance.

Oxford said its data showed a 45 percent rise in searches for the word toxic on its website in 2018.

The searches began with the toxic chemical poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain. Then, in Syria, a toxic chemical weapon attack killed at least 40 people and led to a missile strike from the United States.

The public also was concerned about toxic gas after a series of hurricanes and other storms. Others worried about the burning of toxic waste in India and toxic air pollution around the world. In the American state of Florida, huge numbers of dead fish washed up on the beaches because of toxic algae.

But the increasingly common phrase "toxic environment" has nothing to do with pollution. Oxford says people searched for this phrase in connection to unpleasant workplace environments, including the worldwide walkout of Google employees. They were protesting sexual wrongdoing, unequal pay and discrimination.

Others wanted to know about toxic relationships, especially connected to the #MeToo movement against sex abuse and the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

And the runners-up are…

The word gaslighting was another top word of 2018, Oxford says. It defines the word as "the action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity."

It says the word has been used to describe claims by the administration of President Donald Trump that "the media are spreading 'fake news.'" Gaslighting is also used to describe the British government position on Brexit – Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Words in This Story

bow - n. a weapon used for shooting arrows

potential - n. a chance or possibility that something will happen or exist in the future

hurricane - n. an extremely large, powerful and destructive storm with very strong winds

algae - n. simple plants without leaves or stems that grow in or near water

manipulate - v. to change something in an unfair or selfish way

depiction - n. the description of something or someone using words, story...

sanity - n. the condition of having a healthy mind

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