The site defines the word as,
“a fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures or strangers” and/or “fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different from oneself.”
Jane Solomon, a lexicographer for the site, told the Associated Press that the word began to spike after the Brexit vote, the result of which meant the United Kingdom would split from the rest of the European Union.
“It has been significant throughout the year. But after the EU referendum, hundreds and hundreds of users were looking up the term every hour,” she explained.
Whilst the site can’t determine exactly what caused the spike in searches, or why people were searching for it at all, it does seem to reflect on the current climate of the world.
In a video accompanying the announcement, Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and former U.S. secretary of labor, explained that the rise of the ‘other’ has become prevalent over the last few years. He puts this down to the current political climate, specifically, politicians giving people someone to blame for their problems.
In the video, Reich says,
“…in recent years, as wages stagnated and economic forces began to make many Americans afraid, some politicians used that fear. They channeled it into xenophobia, fear of the “other”: fear of African-Americans, fear of Mexicans, fear of Muslims. Such scapegoating is not new in the history of the world, but it is dangerous. It divides us. It invites harassment and bullying. Or worse, it turns us from tolerance and empathy to disrespect and hate.”
If you would like to see more about Dictionary.com’s word of the year, you can watch the video in full here.