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You may be able to recall just before Christmas dulled our senses that Oxford Dictionaries announced its word of 2017.
And it’s fair to say it made a pretty surprising choice.
While rival dictionaries and commentators chose words and phrases like ‘fake news’ and ‘feminism’, Oxford Dictionaries plumped for ‘Youthquake’.
If, like me, you were left scratching your head by the announcement, I can tell you that after some research – mainly looking it up in the dictionary - that it is not a newly made-up word and is defined as a ‘series of radical political and cultural upheavals occurring among students and young people in the 1960s’.
It took the honours from a shortlist which included ‘antifa’, ‘broflake’, 'kompromat’, ‘unicorn’ and perhaps most bizarrely of all ‘milkshake duck’ (I have no idea) after the dictionary recorded a five-fold increase in its use during the year.
I guess that if you are going to make a word of the year announcement, it is worth having a shortlist of words which is going to cause people to scramble for the dictionary.
And there is little doubt it gained Oxford Dictionaries extensive coverage even if the social media reaction at best appears to have been mixed.
Youthquake has made oxford dictionaries word of the year. Well deserved. I can remember hearing that word for the first time in the following sentence: “Youthquake has made oxford dictionaries word of the year” 😂 #youthquake— Michael Cook (@TheMCook) December 15, 2017
Apparently, 'youthquake' is the Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year. I have never, ever heard or seen anyone use it before today... #youthquake— Alex (@AlexNFFC) December 15, 2017
#Youthquake is trending. Apparently it's the Oxford Dictionaries' word of the year.— Chris Neville-Smith (@cns_theatre) December 15, 2017
Worried I might be getting out of touch with the kids, I check the hashtag. It's full of tweets from people who've never heard of the word before.
Who actually says "youthquake"?
The term #Youthquake has declined in usage since 2004 yet Oxford Dictionaries think it is the word of the year for 2017. Comparing to term like #bangtidy that reached peak popularity in Sep 2015 shows how ill informed that decision was #googletrends #DataDrivenDecisions pic.twitter.com/RXWW9AgsNA— Nick Wilsdon (@nickwilsdon) December 15, 2017
But what does this mean for media spokespeople and broadcast interviews?
Well, as someone who writes regularly, I love words. But unless you are aiming your interview and message at a very particular demographic, ‘youthquake’ is the perfect example of the sort of language which should be avoided.
On our media training courses we always stress to delegates the importance of using everyday language in interviews, as if they are talking to friends in a coffee house or pub.
And while Oxford Dictionaries may have seen a significant increase in the use of the word ‘youthquake', ask yourself how many times you have used it, or heard it, apart from when discussing the word of the year announcement.
When we are giving this advice, it is typically in response to a delegate who has fallen back on corporate language or jargon when put to the test by one of our current working journalist tutors.
But the same applies to any unnecessarily complex language, because if the audience doesn’t fully understand your message, how are they going to know what you want them to do after hearing the interview?
It’s not often people have a dictionary to hand to help decipher what a spokesperson has just said.
A good media spokesperson distils complexity, rather than add to it.
The other issue with language like ‘youthquake’ is that it is divisive. For everyone who likes it you are likely to counter more who find it obnoxious.
It has the same effect on me as people who refer to their presentation slides as a ‘deck’, start sentences with ‘so’ and those who constantly combine two different terms to create a new entity (officially known as portmanteau), such as ‘nontroversy’, ‘chillax’ ‘hangry’ and perhaps the biggest offender of all ‘eating aldesko’, which office bores have taken to calling eating lunch at their desks.
Such is my dislike for ‘youthquake’ that it makes me yearn for the days when Oxford Dictionaries opted for the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji as its ‘word’ of the year.
But then I probably have too many miles on the clock to be part of the ‘youthquake’ movement.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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