The words and phrases that stood out in 2016.

The Most Notable Words and Phrases of 2016

The Most Notable Words and Phrases of 2016

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Dec. 9 2016 9:06 AM

You’re the Puppet. Lock Her Up. It’s a Knife.

The most notable words and phrases of 2016.

trump drake.
Get you a man who can do both.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images and Paul J. Richards/Getty Images.

In 2016, we saw language weaponized, hollowed out, and twisted to accommodate a “post-truth world.” We also saw it patiently, persistently, and urgently articulating the moment. Words were agents of order and servants of chaos; they inspired political movements, built consensus, caused trouble, made us laugh, and made us fume.

Here are Slate’s picks for the most notable words and phrases of 2016.

Advertisement

Lock Her Up

These three words captured all that went wrong with the 2016 election and all that has been wrong with American politics since Republicans first started attempting to criminalize their political opponents as a campaign tactic during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The phrase is the propagandist’s clarion call that captures our divided country and explains our broken system. —Jeremy Stahl

Show Me the Receipts

2016 was the year in which this phrase—made famous by Whitney Houston in a 2002 interview, then revived in reference to Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West—became shorthand for the need to hold powerful people accountable. As I wrote in an earlier post, victims of bias can use “the impartiality of screenshots and audio clips … Impromptu videographers have been brandishing the evidence, from the bystanders who recorded two police officers pinning Alton Sterling to the ground and shooting him to Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of the Minnesota man who was executed during a traffic stop.” This year, receipts were procured to prevent white people from acting with impunity. —Katy Waldman

Advertisement

Get You a Man Who Can Do Both

This started as a Twitter joke about Drake, a man who can look as good in a suit as he does in sweats, but it feels endlessly applicable to me. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the internet’s general opinion of men (low) and interest despite said opinion in ogling them (high). Is a man who can do multiple things really all that rare? Apparently! That’s the “doing both” part, anyway, but a lot of the fun of the phrase is the “get you a man” part, a you-go-girlfriend bit of encouragement to go out there and get what you want: Get you a man who looks at you the way Obama looks at FLOTUS, or get you a man who looks like a Hemsworth without his shirt on—he doesn’t really need to do both. Doing one thing well or while looking good will suffice. Get you a man who understands that women are tired of always doing both their damn selves. —Heather Schwedel

I’ll Keep You in Suspense

Back when it looked like Trump’s loss was inevitable, this astounding piece of motherfuckery (uttered by Trump during the third presidential debate) horrified his opponents and delighted his fans in equal measure. In refusing to say he’d accept the election’s results, in one breath, Trump simultaneously played the puckish stinker, thumbing his nose at the existing order, and the dangerous threat to democracy that he is. —Seth Maxon

Advertisement

It’s Lit

Yeah, this is can be annoying as, say, an Instagram hashtag. But if you can look beyond bragging bravado, there’s actually something nice in this phrase. Contrary to former phrases like FOMO and JOMO, this seems to indicate a glowing appreciation of being exactly where you want to be, and celebrating that. Also, it makes me think that my friends are constantly surrounded by nice lighting, and I like that mental image. —Susan Matthews

You’re the Puppet

This phrase suggests that the rule of conspiracy theories is now the rule of life. —Dahlia Lithwick

Advertisement

It’s a Knife

These were the words uttered with steely nonchalance by steely, nonchalant rapper 21 Savage after an interviewer asked him why he has a cross tattooed in between his eyes. —Leon Neyfakh

What a Time to Be Alive

When rappers Drake and Future called their 2015 mixtape What a Time to Be Alive, they seemed to mean it. Who has the guts to marvel in 2016? This past year, the phrase has become an ironic shibboleth, appended as bitter commentary to inane Trump antics and bizarre cultural trends. Sometimes it signifies faux-naïve wonder at the “futuristic”: “About to get on a plane and watch a Netflix show I downloaded to my iPad. What a time to be alive.” Though it may be the year of Hamilton, nobody agrees with the Schuyler sisters that we’re “lucky to be alive right now.” —Andrew Kahn

Advertisement

Don’t Talk to Me or My Son Ever Again

An esoteric phrase had questionable origins (Cowboy Bebop??) but became a stand-in for everything wrong with 2016 in the first half of this year. —Chelsea Hassler

Grab Them by the Pussy

Thank the soon-to-be president for the most graphic, stomach-churning phrase of 2016. Donald Trump’s 2005 description of his preferred method of introduction to women seemed, at first, like it might cost him the election. Such naïfs were we! The all-too-familiar image of a self-entitled groper wasn’t enough to keep more than 62 million people from electing a fascist as president, but it did force a fair number of bystanders to expand their definitions of sexual assault, so, yay. Now, the phrase is a permanent reminder of the more than a dozen women who’ve confirmed that the supreme leader–elect has made a practice of doing exactly what he bragged about, and worse. Grab them by the pussy has become a pithy condensation of the mortal horror of an admitted sexual abuser beating a supremely qualified woman for the presidency—and neither the phrase nor the horror are going anywhere. Companies are already riffing on Trump’s words to sell underwear that’s “pussy-grabbing-proof” and a version of women’s empowerment that advises men to “grab her by the brain.” Sexual assault isn’t just presidential—it’s profitable! —Christina Cauterucci

Advertisement

Views Was Actually Pretty Good

Drake’s fourth studio album Views was met with lukewarm, in some cases downright hostile reviews when it came out this spring. A few months later, Drake acknowledged the criticism with a billboard in L.A. that sought to quietly remind people that, actually, if we’re being real, the album only has like two bad songs on it. —Leon Neyfakh

Populism

What does Donald Trump have in common with Hugo Chávez? Or Brexit with India’s BJP? Die-hard Maoists in China with far-right racists in Europe? All are described by “elites” in the media and political establishment (their favorite targets) as manifestations of “populism.” Hurled at challengers to the status quo from both the far-left and the far-right, populism as Francis Fukuyama pithily put it this year, is “the label that political elites attach to policies supported by ordinary citizens that they don’t like.” The thing about populism, which denizens of Washington, Brussels, or Beijing should keep in mind before dismissing it, is that it tends to be quite popular. —Josh Keating

Sad!

The signature chaser to Trump’s tweeted opinions was eagerly adopted by a thousand social media satirists during the campaign. It was such a pure distillate of Trump—simplistic, emotionally stunted, insulting, theatrical. The tag took spiteful glee in others’ misfortune (their “failing”). It unmoored a basic word from its definition—the Trumpian sad! doesn’t actually mean sad—in a way that predicted linguistic manipulations to come.

And then Trump was elected, and sad! was no longer the key to interpreting Trump’s psyche; it became a millstone around our necks, a meta commentary on the world we’d woken up in. In this new order, farce cannot be untangled from tragedy. Once the mockable catchphrase of a goofy monster, a semantically confusing, tonally inappropriate sad! has emerged as the perfect descriptor of our political life. —Katy Waldman