Within hours after discovering that the suspect in the attack at Ohio State University was reportedly a Somali refugee, a call to ban Muslims and foreigners grew online. On the same day, Dictionary.com named xenophobia as their 2016 word of the year.
Dictionary.com defines xenophobia as a "fear or hatred of foreigners" or individuals from different cultures. The website cited major 2016 events like the Brexit vote, police shootings, the refugee crisis, LGBTQ rights and the presidential election as the reasons why the word received so much attention.
"Xenophobia and other words tied to global news and political rhetoric reflected the worldwide interest in the unfortunate rise of fear of otherness in 2016, making it the clear choice for Word of the Year," said Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com. "While we can never know the exact reasons why xenophobia trended in our lookups this year, this reflects a desire in our users to understand the significant discourse surrounding global events."
According to Dictionary.com, the second largest surge for the word came on June 29 when President Obama labeled now-president-elect Donald Trump's rhetoric as xenophobia during a speech. The largest surge for the term came just five days before that on June 24, right after the Brexit vote that led to a rise in xenophobia in the U.K.
"It has been significant throughout the year," Jane Solomon, one of the dictionary site's lexicographers, said. "But after the EU referendum, hundreds and hundreds of users were looking up the term every hour."
In a video explaining the meaning of the word, economist Robert Reich describes America's long history with bigotry, and how politicians in recent years channeled economic fears to scapegoat marginalized groups.
"Dictionary.com is right to make xenophobia the word of the year, but it is also one of the biggest threats we face," Reich said. "It is not a word to be celebrated. It is a sentiment to be fought."
By staying active in the fight against xenophobia, we can strive to create a better society where people love and respect each other's differences. And, as in the case of recent events in Ohio, we should not jump to distrust of our neighbors during dark times. When difficulty strikes, it becomes more important, not less, to remain united.
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