‘Goblin mode’ and ‘Menty-b’: Macquarie Dictionary grapples with a chaotic world

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How would you put the past three years into words? According to the Macquarie Dictionary, phrases like “Barbiecore”, “goblin mode” and “spicy cough” are a pretty apt summary. These playful turns of phrase are among the 3000 new words added to the dictionary’s ninth edition.

Back in 2020, Australians were caught up in conversations about “cancel culture”, “climate strikes” and “Me Too”, all of which were promptly added to the dictionary’s previous edition. But since then, we’ve lived through catastrophic fires, the rise of AI and, of course, a global pandemic – all of which have helped shaped what words and phrases the dictionary thinks is worth officially recognising.

“Barbiecore”, “goblin mode” and “spicy cough” are a pretty apt summary of the last three years, according to the Macquarie Dictionary.

Macquarie’s managing editor, Victoria Morgan, says each edition offers a snapshot of what Australians are preoccupied with at any given time, from lighthearted colloquialisms (“bachelor’s handbag”: a takeaway roast chicken) to philosophical musings (“metaverse”: a proposed virtual-reality network allowing movement between different sites, platforms, servers, etc.).

“This edition has been quite distinct with the pandemic and other social trends that people are following. The role of the dictionary is to simply present language as it is currently being used in Australian English,” she says.

The nation’s vocabulary has drawn inspiration from a plethora of recent major shifts, Morgan says, including COVID-19 and environmental crises like the Black Summer fires and La Niña floods.

“Linguistically, COVID has meant this has been quite a significant point in time. We haven’t had this many terms created by a single crisis or catastrophe pretty much since the world wars,” Morgan says.

Words used to define the chaos of the pandemic, such as “Omicron” (a variant [B.1.351] of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19) and “long COVID” (used to make sense of the chaos that is COVID-19), have been added. But it’s not all technical, with slang terms like “spicy cough” and “menty-b” (a breakdown in one’s mental health) showcasing Australia’s need for levity amid a global health crisis.

“As a general rule, Australians like to play with language,” Morgan says. “If there’s something quite serious, like mental health or COVID, we do seem to create quite lighthearted ways of being able to talk about things … We’re happy to put it out there.”

Environmental and climate-related words have long been common within the Australian vernacular, but this edition finally sees the phrase “net-zero” join the ranks. Following Australia’s catastrophic bushfire season, “Pyrocumulonimbus” (a cumulonimbus which forms above a source of intense heat, such as a bushfire, volcanic eruption, etc.) has also been introduced.

However, the dictionary still knows how to have fun, which it does so by tapping into the latest pop-cultural trends. Greta Gerwig’s record-smashing Barbie film managed to wiggle itself onto the list thanks to “Barbiecore” (a fashion characterised by an all-pink colour palette, especially bright pink) despite only having been released in July this year. Could “Ken-ough” be a contender for the tenth edition?

The Barbie film triggered a massive uptake in the word Barbiecore, which is now in the Macquarie Dictionary.Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

And considering many Australians spent much of the lockdowns “doomscrolling” (another new word) TikTok, it’s no surprise that several of the dictionary’s new words scream “chronically online”. For example, there’s “bitmoji” (an emoji or avatar personalised to look like oneself), “goblin mode” (a pattern of behaviour characterised by an embrace of indolence and slovenliness), and “nepo baby” (a celebrity, often in the entertainment industry, who has a famous parent). However, “bombastic side eye” (a judgemental look from the side) and “bussin” (used to describe tasty food) sadly did not make the cut.

New terms are rapidly established, Morgan says, especially during the social media age, so she and her staff depend on both their own daily observations and those from regular contributors and the public.

“There’s so much new language evolving because any new product, any new trend or behavioral practice often creates its own new language. In a way, we’re always playing catch up,” Morgan says.

The ninth edition of the Macquarie Dictionary will be released online and in print on September 12.

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