‘Dumpster Fire’ Is 2016’s Word Of The Year

Dumpster fire” has been chosen by the American Dialect Society to be the word of the year in 2016. The phrase, which is meant to convey a cataclysmic situation and which is synonymous with a term like “train wreck,” has become one of the most popular phrases to describe 2016.

The widely-circulated GIF of trash burning up in flames in a large, blue dumpster became deeply embedded within both popular and media discourses surrounding 2016’s U.S. presidential election. For many, “dumpster fire” was the consummate metaphor for an election season that has been turbulent, divisive, and frankly, a hot mess all around

“Dumpster fire” certainly isn’t a newly-coined phrase and has existed in our lexicon for awhile. As a metaphor, “dumpster fire” has its roots in sports news, according to Columbia Journalism Review, and its earliest appearances in a political context perhaps can be traced to a 2008 article on the Scholars and Rogues blog.

The usage of “dumpster fire” began to rise in frequency after the summer of 2015, roughly around the time Donald Trump announced his campaign for presidency, the Oxford Dictionaries Blog points out. The phrase proliferated on both social media and media outlets in 2016, and one of the surest gauges of how significant “dumpster fire” has become as an idiom is the fact that people are now beginning to tire of its omnipresence on the internet.

The President-elect speaks to his supporters after the conclusion of a messy presidential election
Donald Trump at a rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania after an election season that has frequently been compared to a "dumpster fire." [Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

Last November, the Daily Beast rounded up the opinions that political experts and writers had towards “dumpster fire.” Some, like Claire Fallon at The Huffington Post, had begun to find it to be irritating.

“I felt like by the time I was ready to write about it, it was already annoying. Like I concluded at the end of the piece, it’s funny because it’s weirdly specific and unexpected, which it isn’t anymore. It’s a cliché.”

But despite some people’s aversion towards the over-usage of the phrase, one of the reasons behind the choice of “dumpster fire” as the word of the year is the fact that, for better or worse, the idiom has tapped into the ethos of 2016. Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, explains that the phrase has been an apt conduit that captures people’s fears and uncertainties.

“As 2016 unfolded, many people latched on to dumpster fire as a colorful, evocative expression to verbalize their feelings that the year was shaping up to be a catastrophic one. In pessimistic times, dumpster fire served as a darkly humorous summation of how many viewed the year’s events.”

A lot of the darkness that people associate with 2016 does not merely stem from the U.S. presidential election, but is also connected to reactions to international events like Brexit and the conflicts in Syria. The year 2016 has also delivered many blows in terms of the deaths of celebrities. The deaths of celebrities like David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, George Michael, and both Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, have made the year seem unusually bleak.

Carrie Fisher with her mother Debbie Reynolds during the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2015.
Carrie Fisher with Debbie Reynolds during the 2015 SAG Awards. Both actresses passed away at the end of December last year. [Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]

Other words that were almost selected as the word of the year include “normalize,” “#NoDAPL,” “woke,” and “post-truth.” “Woke,” which was defined by the American Dialect Society as being “socially aware of enlightened” was voted as the slang word of the year, while “post-truth” was chosen as the political word of the year.

Instead of “dumpster fire,” the American Name Society (the sibling organization of the American Dialect Society) decided on “Aleppo,” the Syrian city that has been the site of major military confrontations for over four years, as the Name of the Year for 2016. Aleppo was also voted by the society as the Place Name of the Year.

[Featured Image by Baloncici/iStock]