'Populismo' Picked as 2016 Spanish Word of the Year

Word Has Gained Negative Connotations

Populist sign in Colombia
Colombian voters' narrow rejection of a peace treaty in October 2016 was widely seen as the result of populism. "No hay paz" means "there is no peace.". CrossMediaLab UJTL/Creative Commons.

Populismo, the equivalent of the English word "populism," has been named the 2016 Spanish Word of the Year.

The designation was made by the Urgent Spanish Foundation (Fundación del Español Urgente, also known as Fundéu), a language watchdog organization connected with the Royal Spanish Academy and sponsored by the news agency EFE and the banking organization BBVA.

Fundéu annually designates a Word of the Year, typically naming a word that is new to the language, one that has a new meaning or one that has gained increased use in media and/or Spanish-speaking culture. In this case, populismo has long been part of the language, but the word's use has surged during the past year because of political movements worldwide, including those that approved Britain's withdrawal from the European Union and elected Donald Trump president of the United States.

In its official announcement, Fundéu noted that populismo has traditionally been considered a neutral word, but that in political discourse these days it is often used with a derogatory connotation. Its original meaning referred to a political movement belonging to the people.

In explaining the word's selection, Javier Lascuráin, Fundéu's general coordinator, said: "It would seem clear that in a year as political as this one, with events of global importance such as Brexit, Donald Trump's electoral victory and the various electoral processes and plebiscites in the Americas and Spain, the Fundéu Word of the Year had to come from this sphere."

Noting that some of the other finalists for the recognition also came from the politics, he said: "Finally we decided on populismo, which for some time had been at the center of political debate and from the linguistic viewpoint is in a process of expansion and change of meaning, taking on sometimes negative connotations."

Lascuráin made clear that the evolving connotation of populismo played a role in its selection: "During the last months we have received much advice about the real meaning of populismo. It is seeming evident that the use it is given in the media and political debate goes beyond the simple defense of the people's interests that most dictionaries, with different nuances, mention."

The evolution of the word's usage "is happening each day before our eyes," he said.

This is the fourth time that Fundéu has named a Word of the Year. Previous selections beginning in 2013 are escrache (a political demonstration near someone's residence), selfi (selfie) and refugiado (refugee).

The other finalists for the 2016 selection were:

  • Abstenciocracia — A neologism (newly coined word) that refers to the political tool of abstaining from voting.
  • BizarroBizarro has traditionally meant "brave" or "generous," and it was often considered an Anglicism to use it with the meaning of its English cognate, "bizarre." But its use as meaning "bizarre" has now become acceptable.
  • Cuñadismo — This word, coming from cuñado, the word for brother-in-law, has traditionally referred to nepotism. These days it can also refer to the attitude of know-it-alls who try to impose their views on others.
  • LGTBfobia — The rough equivalent of the English "homophobia" but as applied to lesbians, gay men, transgender people and bisexuals. It is pronounced as elegetebefobia.
  • Ningufoneo — The ignoring of others while looking at the screen or talking on a cellphone. It is the equivalent of the English slang "phubbing." The verb form is ningufonear.
  • Papilomavirus — Papillomavirus.
  • PosverdadCalque of the English "post-truth."
  • Sorpaso — The word, derived from the Italian sorpasso, has gained increased use in the political realm to refer to an overcoming or surpassing.
  • Vendehúmos — A compound noun that literally means "he/she sells smoke," it means someone who tries to persuade others of pie-in-the-sky ideas or goals.
  • Videoarbitraje — The making of refereeing decisions in soccer through the use of video replays.
  • Youtubero — Someone who publishes videos on YouTube. This word is not capitalized.