As It Happens

What is 'goblin mode' and why is it Oxford's 2022 word of the year?

The publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary put its 2022 word of the year up for a public vote this year, and goblin mode reigned supreme. To be in goblin mode is to be "unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy," according to the dictionary.

To be in goblin mode is to be 'unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy'

A bearded man in a flannel shirt is passed out on a couch in an extremely messy room. He has a can of drink in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. There's a video game controller next to him.
Goblin mode is defined as 'a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.' (G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock)

The concept of "goblin mode" is something everyone can relate to, says the president of Oxford Languages.

The publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary put its 2022 word of the year up for a public vote this year, and goblin mode reigned supreme. 

Oxford defines it as "a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations."

Think dirty sweatpants, a messy home, piles of junk food and an overall attitude of not caring what anyone thinks of you. 

"You can't see because we're on the phone right now, but I've got my third bag of potato chips open in front of me. I've been in part-goblin mode all day long," Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

"I think that all of us can relate to those moments, whether we share them on social media or not. You know, our goblin modes are probably here to stay."

Capturing that 2022 mood

Goblin mode first appeared on Twitter in 2009, according to Oxford, but has grown in prominence over the last year or so.

"It catches a real mood and a preoccupation of the moment," Grathwohl said.

It exploded in the spring when a satirical tweet went viral claiming that embattled musician Kanye West broke up with actress Julia Fox because he didn't like it when she "went goblin mode."

Grathwohl sees it as the antithesis of the performative perfection that's often expected of us online, and a natural response to the incredible pressures that people are under. 

"You think about the last few years and coming out of the pandemic and how threadbare we all are," he said.

"The idea of that unapologetically self-indulgent behaviour that's a little slovenly, a little lazy … is a rejection of the pressure to show our idealized, curated selves on our TikTok feeds and on Instagram."

'The goblin lobby'

When picking its word of the year, Oxford aims to "reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance."

Usually, the process is entirely internal. But this year, Oxford narrowed it down to three finalists — goblin mode, metaverse and #IStandWith — and asked the public to vote.

Oxford is the publisher of Oxford English Dictionary. (RosnaniMusa/Shutterstock )

"The word of the year is a process that's fun and we enjoy it," Grathwohl said. "We thought it was something that the general public would enjoy and would engage with. And sure enough, they did."

With more than 340,000 votes cast, goblin mode was the clear victor with 93 per cent of the vote.

"There was a goblin mode lobby that arose during these two weeks, and they really overwhelmed the competition," Grathwohl said.

"There were some crypto community members who were really pushing for a metaverse, but clearly the goblins won."

What happens in a 'permacrisis'

If goblin mode is the symptom of a difficult couple of years, then Collins Dictionary's word of the year is the disease.

The U.K.-based dictionary chose "permacrisis" as its word of the year, defining it as "an extended period of instability and insecurity."

Like goblin mode, it's not necessarily a new term. Its first recorded usage dates back to 1970s academia. 

"It's sort of found a new lease of life given world events," Collins language consultant Helen Newstead told As It Happens in November. "It sort of felt very fitting for this particular year." 

LISTEN | Why Collins chose 'permacrisis' as word of the year: 
U.K.-based Collins Dictionary chose "permacrisis" as its word of the year for 2022. Helen Newstead, a language content consultant at Collins, tells As It Happens host Nil Köksal why.

Last week, Merriam-Webster announced that its word of the year is "gaslighting" — psychological manipulation intended to make a person question the validity of their own thoughts.

No matter what's happening the world, Newstead says that people have a remarkable ability to capture their reality with language, whether through creating new words or breathing life into old ones. 

"I think language is very powerful," she said. "When we have difficult situations, as we saw during COVID, it puts pressure on the language to give us ways to express how we're feeling and the predicament that we find ourselves in." 

At the end of the day, Grathwohl says a dictionary's job is simply to reflect that.

"We are a descriptive program, meaning we're not here to record how language should be used. We're recording how language is actually used," he said.

"The rise of social media, and how much of our communications are through those channels, really has meant that social media has an outsized power in how language is evolving and the zeitgeist of words. And so we're paying more and more attention to that."


Interview with Casper Grathwohl produced by Brianna Gosse. Interview with Helen Newstead produced by Katie Geleff.

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