Own Your Year! Why A Word for the Year Is Easier to Choose Than You Realize (150 ideas)
Disclosure: I love finding new items or products and sharing them with you. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you. Thank you!
What is a word for the year?
The concept of choosing a word of the year for the English language started in 1990; Germany already had its own Wort des Jahres that was started in 1971 with aufmüpfig (Rebellious, insubordinate; a characterization of the 1960s counterculture).
On December 19, Allan Metcalf who is a real logophile (word lover), English professor and forensic linguist, was inspired by TIME Magazine’s tradition of choosing an influential person of the year.
It was from this practice he and 40 other like minded logophiles and language experts attending the annual American Dialect Society’s annual meeting chose an influential word to round out the century.
What was the first ever word of the year in English?
For the inaugural Word of the Year, the American Dialect Society chose – bushlips.
The word was a portmanteau (a blending of two different words ) of Bush + lips that is defined as – insincere political rhetoric (aka bs). Taken from President George H.W. Bush Sr.’s 1988 pledge “Read my lips: no new taxes” which ended up being a failed campaign promise because taxes were in fact increased.
Who decides what a word of the year will be?
The Word of the Year game got more competitive as the ol’ dictionary boys wised up and began choosing their own words. Surprisingly they weren’t the leads considering words are their whole MO. Forest through the trees, I guess.
Merriam-Webster proclaimed its first word of the year in 2003 (democracy).
Oxford University Press started participating in 2004 with chav, what the British might call an offensive and disparaging young person.
Australia’s National Dictionary Centre began participating in 2006 (podcast).
Dictionary.com threw it’s name in the hat with their word of the year in 2010 (Change), and
Collins English Dictionary finally decided a word of the year was cool in 2013 when they landed on geek as their choice.
When Do I Choose a Word of the Year?
Although choosing a word of the year aligns nicely with the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions, you can choose a word of the year at any point.
Do I need a word for the year?
Choosing to focus your energy and efforts throughout the year based on a single word or phrase that guides those decisions is a highly personal decision.
If you’re reading here because you’ve searched for “Should I have a word of the year?”, then the answer is likely, heck ya. Having a word or phrase of the year enhances your life far more than floundering around from one idea, project, feeling, validation, or goal.
There are several reasons why choosing a word of the year may be something you find encouraging and motivating, such as:
What should my word for the year be?
How you come up with your word or phrase for the year can be made in many ways, and I don’t recommend spending weeks going through dictionaries or reading other people’s examples in search of your own word.
As helpful as it is to see how others have chosen a word, such as wanting to live more intentionally through kindness and love in their work, home, personal, health and spiritual lives.
The bottom line is you’ll know when you land on your word because it will feel right, like a gut reaction, you may feel a deep sense of calm, or sudden hell ya!
You may or may not want to share this word or phrase with anyone else, that’s totally up to you.
Some people thrive on announcements because it creates a sense of urgency and accountability, others are particular and deliberate behind the scenes.
For a list of questions to help guide you through the process keep reading, if you want to jump ahead to suggested words click below.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Finding Your Word For the Year
Putting pen to paper is the quickest way of finding your word for the year because the act of writing connects your body with your mind. Writing also strengthens your immune system, who knew?
Do you want your word to be a Noun, Verb or Adjective?
A person(perhaps an idol or someone you want to emulate), an animal(do you want to embody the grace of a white peacock https://www.birdadvisors.com/white-peacock-or-albino-peacock/ ? Or be less slothful and more reflective like a cheetah?), a place(are you the energy of Myeong-dong https://www.theseoulguide.com/myeong-dong/ at night, or a Bali sunrise?), an idea(justice, advocacy, entrepreneurship). Do you want a concrete noun like woman, friend? Or more abstract such as creativity, courage?
A verb can show action like run, laugh, pushing, fighting, strive. Perhaps a verb that resonates with you describes a state of being, an emotion, possession, sense or opinion like love, respect, tolerance, nourish.
An adjective describes the qualities of a noun or a noun’s state of being such as clever, fun, light pink, dedicated, tireless, clean
What does your ideal word feel like to you?
Does your word create a feeling of strength, empowerment, calm, giddiness? Pay close attention to your physiological responses as you experiment with different options. Things like sweating, increased heart beating (from excitement, not pain – if that’s the case you’re definitely on the wrong track and need to go 180 and choose an opposite word or call the doctor!)The sensation of knots or butterflies in your stomach, goosebumps, a literal knee-jerk reaction like clapping your hands, jumpiness or sitting back in your chair, a total feeling of serenity washing over you are all strong indicators that a word or phrase is right for you. This may or may not be an orgasmic experience here, no worries, but pay attention to your feelings.
Is there an area of your life that needs attention?
If given more attention, might this spill into other areas of your life with positive results? For example, follow through was a word that came to mind when I considered my fitness habits or lack thereof. By focusing on following through with my nicely made workout calendars, app subscriptions, 12 week exercise plans, desire for training for a 10km, I know other areas of my life would positively benefit. This might be something to consider.
Is your life trying to tell you something?
Had a string of “bad luck”? A few setbacks, some frustrations or something about you that’s been called into question? You’re dropping the ball at work, you’ve misplaced bills you needed to pay, you’ve been struggling to get a raise, you’re proud of showing up everyday to workout. Perhaps your word or phrase for the year will be reflective of your ability to push through or add to your life despite these struggles..
Without thinking, if I were to shout out to you,
Don’t think, just answer.
There is only 1 rule when choosing your word for the year: it’s your word therefore it only needs to mean something for you.
Formula for Choosing Your Word or Phrase for the Year
The feeling you hope to have this time next year + an area that needs attention
what your life needs more of + verb
Word of the Year Generator
If you’re really stuck, Jen Fulwiler created a simply word of the year generator, which is probably the easiest way of choosing a random word for the year
Check out the Word of the year Generator
Ideas To Help You Choose a Word For the Year
I debated gathering up all of the words ever made in every language to add to this list, which is precisely the thing I like to do (research until there is no stone unturned, the kind of research that takes MONTHS because it’s never ending and the kind that also takes me away from spending time with my family, neglecting my responsibilities and staying up until 3am.
This is why my most recent word of the year has been Impeccably Imperfect.
So without further ado, here are a list of suggestions that may spark inspiration for this year’s word or phrase.
What to do once you’ve chosen your word for the year?
Right on, you’ve landed on your word for the year!
Once you know your word, you’ll probably think about it often, play with it in your mind and let it roll around in your mouth.
You may whisper it to yourself and doodle it in your planner.
Perhaps you look it up to reaffirm its meaning, and you may decide to pair it with another word. That’s okay.
You’ll find your decisions and the events around you seem to connect better; there’s a sense of clarity and for me the song lyrics from Nina Simone’s Feeling Good start wafting through my day
It's a new dawn It's a new day It's a new life for me, ooh And I'm feeeeeeeling gooooooooood Nina Simone’s Feeling Good
You’ve got some pep in your step and you’re ready for a new chapter. Congratulations!
Here are 5 ways to implement your word for the year
- Set aside 20 minutes or longer to make a plan and visualize what this word or phrase for the year means to you.
- You’re going to explore every facet of your life by mapping out the end goal – where you see yourself this time next year?
- What you feel when you wake up
- What the day looks like
- What are you eating
- What are you driving, how are you going places
- What is making you laugh
- What are you excited about
- What are you at peace with
- Then identify all the areas of your life: family, health, work, self, career, spirituality, financial, relationships, fun/hobbies, giving back (community) and apply your word or phrase for the year into each of these categories.
- For example: volunteer at a charity that fits with your intention, determine a career goal(s) which align with your goal, give more to some areas and pull back from others. No is also an okay word for the year.
- Be as detailed as you think you can handle. Personally, I mix up highly specific goals such as: will have 15 less cats by this time next year (kidding) or I will save $100 per month. Balanced with something more general: I want to feel more accomplished.
- Capture a quick win.
- This is an action you can take right now (it doesn’t have to be grand), to enact your word. your word.
- Join a course
- Delete or discard
- Shuffle money around
- Set up alerts and reminders
- Move your body (5 jumping jacks, squats, walk around, stretch)
- Drink a glass of water: it will clear your head
- Call, email, text whomever and wherever you need to in order to get the ball rolling in a direction that fires you up
- Book time away. One night, a weekend, and afternoon. Go with friends, family or a partner. Maybe just solo. But put it on the calendar and begin the process of making this commitment to yourself. Balancing perspective is a good thing.
Finally, Go forth and prosper! See ya next year!