Welcome to “goblin mode”: what Oxford Dictionary’s surprising word of the year really means

Written by Amy Beecham

“Goblin mode” has been selected as the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year by public vote. But what does it mean exactly? 

Going more days than you’d care to admit without washing your hair. Drinking more Diet Coke than water. Knowing a top has a stain on it and wearing it anyway. Eating cold leftovers straight out of the fridge. Spending a whole day (or two) in hibernation in front of the TV.

If you’ve found yourself doing any of the above this year, you may have unwittingly entered “goblin mode”. And who could blame you?

2022 has been a year of pushes and pulls, jerking us back and forth between lockdown and freedom, ease and strain. After Hot Girl Summer came Sad Girl Autumn, and after the post-pandemic Treatwave came the cost of living crisis. The whiplash alone is enough to send us, snacks in hand, straight to the darkest depths of our increasingly messy bedrooms.

So when the public selected “goblin mode” to be the Oxford Word of the Year – aka the expression that most accurately reflects the ethos, mood or preoccupations of the past 12 months – it didn’t come as much of a surprise. 

It’s officially defined as “a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’ – a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”.

And it has quite the history behind it. Although it first made an appearance on Twitter timelines all the way back in 2009, goblin mode went truly viral in February 2022, rising in popularity over the months that followed as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly.

In the era of pristine TikTok morning routines and That Girl, goblin mode allowed people to reject and rebel against the unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media. And it certainly resonated with the people of Twitter.

Embracing these new realities, as messy, aspirational and untamed as they might be, is something we’ve all leaned into this year. Whether you’ve declared yourself in your “feral era” or dutifully uploaded your daily, unedited BeReal, we’ve all craved self-indulgence and a departure from polished social norms in some form.

But beyond going to sleep at 4am, wearing weird mismatched pyjamas and forgetting what your bedroom floor actually looks like, goblin mode is simply a response to a really difficult year. After all, the Collins word of the year was declared as “permacrisis” and Merriam-Webster’s as “gaslighting”, which tells you all you need to know.

Even after two previous unprecedented years of hardship and anxiety, 2022 still found a way to try and test us. But it also brought some great lightness, too. Finding solace in the small joys, like the celebration of the bimbo or getting a wolf haircut, is what has salvaged the past year and will keep doing so for the next. And if that means us all leaning into our inner goblins too, then so be it.

Images: Getty

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