Have you, during this past year, felt so overwhelmed by everything that you decided to just stop trying? Like when politicians depressed you on Twitter, exploitative CEO-types depressed you on LinkedIn, merry-marrying friends depressed you on Instagram, and your reaction was to binge on potato chips and Netflix in your pyjamas? You were not alone. The Oxford University Press (OUP) saw you, felt you, and announced a term for your state as the word of the year – goblin mode. According to the worthy people at the OUP, “‘Goblin mode’ – a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’ – is ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.'” Of course, a worthy North Indian parent would simply term you ‘kaahil’, ask you to comb your hair and get over it. But the term – and the manner in which it was chosen – raises interesting points about how people are responding to unprecedented stresses financial, political and social. Oxford’s word of the year is supposed to capture the zeitgeist, the flavour, of the year gone by. For the UK and indeed for most of the world, this year has brought on more disruptions and misery thanks to the Russia-Ukraine war, when people were still recovering from the Covid suckerpunch. This was the first time that the word was chosen by popular vote. Three terms were selected by the Oxford Oxford University Press, based on usage evidence from Oxford’s constantly updating corpus of more than 19 billion words. ‘Goblin mode’, ‘metaverse’, and ‘#IstandWith’ were then opened to public voting, and “goblin mode” secured a landslide victory with 93 per cent of the votes. The respondents were 3,40,000 English speakers around the world, which is less than the population of Noida, but still significant. Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Languages, said, “…this level of engagement with the campaign caught us totally by surprise. The strength of the response highlights how important our vocabulary is to understanding who we are and processing what’s happening to the world around us.” Goblin mode emerged on social media as a counter to trends like #mycrazyroutine, where people showed off how insanely and productively packed their day was, or #thatgirl, where the girl in question had great skin, great hair, great physique, great clothes and presumably great mental health, or #cottagecore, where the houses on display were havens of pretty, pastel domesticity. Goblin mode can be seen as one’s decision to say “no, thank you” to a world that demands constant perfection. You can strive to work out, eat healthy, have a perfect home, perfect looks, perfect social skills, perfect vacations, and of course put them all for display on social media. Or you can give priority to your emotional and physical exhaustion in a world where stuttering economies, rising hatred, and deteriorating climate have made it difficult to smell the roses, in any sense of the phrase. The rising acceptability of ‘goblin mode’ says it is okay to not try, to give in to your more debased instincts, to not care for social niceties, to choose sloppy comfort over curated beauty. Significantly, goblin is a ‘mode’, something you slip in and out of, and not a permanent regression to semi-civility. Broadly, two criticisms can be made of goblin mode. First, it is a response to pressures of social media and is thus too focused on an artificial world. It is not a secret that the curated versions of people on social media are just that – cut-pasted and airbrushed from actual life. Instead of consuming and then rejecting that version, energies can be better spent on recognising that it is a part of a larger whole, and every life has goblin moments and fairy princess moments. Second, goblin mode can be seen as a selfish descent into not trying. Tellingly, Oxford’s responders voted en-masse for goblin mode – a me-focused term – over #IstandWith, which is about supporting other people and causes. Faced with unrelenting crises, is an ungraceful retreat the answer? Or does one go the Mrs Dalloway way in the immortal words of Virgina Woolf: “Those ruffians, the Gods, shan’t have it all their own way – her notion being that the Gods, who never lost a chance of hurting, thwarting and spoiling human lives, were seriously put out if, all the same, you behaved like a lady.” Essentially, you still dress up, show up, and put your best foot forward, no matter how shaky the foot and how infirm the ground, as far as your circumstances allow it. Does the Oxford word of the year mean people are becoming more selfish, or at least self-centered? Does the choice of the term mean an exhausted population is simply looking to survive, not really bothered about standing up and standing with? Or does it simply mean decisions like this should be left to professionals and not opened to popular choice polls? Maybe we need another poll to find out.