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What’s the “Right” 2021 Word of the Year? (It’s Not What You Think!)

Yellow background with the numbers 2021 hanging from individual pieces of twine. Text reads "how to choose the right word of the year"

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there’s no such thing as a “right” 2021 word of the year for EVERYONE.

That said, there’s probably a right word FOR YOU.

But we don’t all have to have the same word. Though it’s fine if your word is the same as someone else’s. No one owns a word.

Finding my own word of the year is one of my favorite things to do every December/January.

It helps me think of the upcoming year as a blank canvas and my word becomes the color palette I’m going to paint it with.

If you’re looking for some help finding your 2021 word of the year—or WOTY—I got you. Here are some WOTY resources:

More of a visual learner? Here’s a video I made on New Year’s Eve breaking down this easy process:

Gradient background of pink to teal with a white circle in the middle around the words "Word of the Year Exercise" overlaid with a grey triangle like a play button

What is a Word of the Year?

You know how some people have music they use to pump themselves up? Like how wrestlers have a theme song when they walk into the ring?

via GIPHY

Why do they do that? So they can get in the zone and be ready to DOMINATE once they’re in the ring.

That’s what your word of the year can be for you. Your “pump me up” word.

The thing your word of the year can’t be is wrong. You can’t get it wrong! If you pick something you don’t like after a while, there are no rules that say you can’t change it.

Decisions are not life sentences, especially when it comes to picking a word.

No, you aren’t saddled with your word for entirety. If you realize after a while that it’s not the right word after all? Just pick another word.

This isn’t a blood oath or marriage. Plus it’s only for a year—or a month, or a week!

How to Pick Your Word of the Year

Woman holding open a notebook in her lap, about to start writing probably about her word of the year

This exercise is both accessible in the links above and explained in my video. But just in case, here are 5 easy steps for creating your word of the year:

  1. Take a moment to reflect on what you want out of 2021, become aware of your thoughts.
  2. Try to see or imagine your word or lots of words that relate to what you’re feeling.
  3. Brainstorm. Then brain dump out everything that comes to mind, whether by writing it down or typing them out. Get them all down on paper.
  4. Narrow your options. Go through all your potential words and start discarding the ones that don’t quite fit until you’re down to one or two.
  5. Test out your word by telling others about it. Does it come easily in conversation? Do you stumble when saying it? What does it feel like to write it out?

After you’ve played around with saying or writing your word for a bit, then you can decide if it’s the right one or not.

You can also use a thesaurus for coming up with related words.

What is a GOOD Word of the Year?

Your word of the year doesn’t have to be earth shattering. It’s personal to everyone.

But what makes a good—possibly even great—word of the year is one that makes you happy.

It’s a word that feels good to say or think. It reminds you of why you’re doing what you’re doing. And it can make you feel like this happy puppy looks:

A happy dog with his tongue hanging out, lying in the grass

A good word of the year can also become a POWER word. The one that makes you feel invincible.

Like that music that wrestlers use, your word can also set you up for success!

What was the most popular word in 2020?

2020 was an unprecedented year. You’ve heard that term over and over, right, unprecedented?

Close up of a dictionary with the word "unprecedented" highlighted

Between a pandemic, social unrest, and insurrection the word that a lot of people used was “unprecedented.”

Because most of us had never experienced this before. There was no precedent for how to feel or act.

The main online dictionaries words were very much the same. And it was no surprise what their words were:

The Oxford Dictionary published a free ebook on their process for coming up with a word for 2020. In the end, they simply couldn’t. There was no one word that fully encompassed what we as a global society experienced.

I’ve read the book. It’s 38 pages long but if you’re a word nerd like me, you’ll probably enjoy it. It tracks world events against the popularity of English words and phrases.

It covers a lot from the Australian bushfires in the early part of the year to how new terms like “zoom-ready” and “doomscrolling” came into play.

I love the fluidity of language. I love how it can change and adapt to where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

That’s probably why I love this WOTY exercise so much!

My 2021 Word of the Year

Turquoise background with multi-colored dots in the corner. Text in the middle reads my word of the year is escalate

This year I came up with my word really easily. But I was torn because at first I didn’t like the connotations that came with it.

My word is ESCALATE.

What does escalate even mean? From Dictionary.com:

escalate es-kuh-leyt ]
verb (used with or without object),es·ca·lat·ed,es·ca·lat·ing.

to increase in intensity, magnitude, etc.:

Dictionary.com

I love the way escalate sounds. I like how I envision myself using it to “paint my canvas” of my year.

Escalate fully encapsulates that feeling I described in my video of making gains, putting in the work, and enjoying the rewards.

But it also kind of reminds me of Karens who want to speak to the manager. They escalate their problems.

And THAT had me irritated.

So I went through a bunch of other words that were kind of like escalate. But none of them even came close.

In the end, I decided to reclaim the power of escalate with none of the dirty side effects.

What are the Benefits of a Word of the Year?

I do this word of the year exercise annually because, as a blogger, it’s really great to have a word to anchor into.

Whenever I hit a creative block—like writer’s block, which is the worst!—I can tap back into my word to remind me of what my goals are.

Hands with red nails on a black keyboard on a table surrounded by affirmations

Really, a WOTY can give you a ton of benefits:

  • a theme for the year
  • a guidepost for your intentions
  • an anchor for motivation
  • a mantra to help clarify options

So when you find yourself stuck, think about your WOTY. It can help you return to your ultimate goals for the year, and shepherd you to success.

You might have a(nother) unexpected year. There will probably be some curveballs to contend with. Your word of the year won’t protect you from them.

But if you let it, it can guide you through these challenges.

Think of it like a type of self care!

So: what is your 2021 word of the year?


Save this for later by pining one of these image:

Pink background with a blond bespectacled woman sitting at a typewriter. Text reads "choosing the 'right' word of the year"
Teal background with a vintage typewriter surrounded by crumpled papers. Text reads "how your word of the year can help you conquer writer's block"

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