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A look back at the key words of 2017, from 'covfefe' to youthquake

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-12-31

Several new words made their way into the lexicon in 2017 while others were inadvertently invented. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at some of the terms that helped define the year.


US President Donald Trump is no stickler for traditional spelling and usage, but when he tweeted the word “covfefe” in May, millions were baffled. “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” he wrote. The typo inspired a night of social media speculation before it was deleted and replaced with a tweet reading: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’?”. Needless to say, the internet had a few suggestions.

© Bill Wechter, AFP


“France is an unreformable country,” French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed during an August speech in Budapest. “Many have tried and have not succeeded, because the French hate reforms. If they can avoid reform, they do.” His remarks caused quite a stir in France, where his compatriots bristled at the criticism. Nevertheless, the young president has managed to pass several controversial reforms since taking office.

© Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP


Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority group has long been discriminated against, but a surge of violence in 2017 caused hundreds of thousands to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh. Accounts of mass killings, systematic rape and torture by the Myanmar army have captured the attention of the international community and made “Rohingya” a household word.

© Munir Uz Zaman, AFP


"I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire." North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s surprisingly adroit insult had many of us running for our dictionaries. “Dotard” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a person in his or her dotage", or "a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness". Kim used the archaic 14th-century insult several times in an unprecedented first-person address to Trump.

Rocket man

Kim Jong-un wasn’t the only one to get creative with insults in 2017. Trump has taken to referring to the North Korean leader as “Rocket man” for his recent missile tests in tweets and speeches, including one at the United Nations.


The #MeToo hashtag inspired an anti-harassment movement and encouraged millions to break their silence and share their own experiences. It started trending worldwide in the wake of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s downfall over allegations of decades of sexual misconduct.

Feminism (Merriam-Webster's word of the year)

The Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, the release of the TV series The Handmaid’s Taleand the Hollywood blockbuster Wonder Womanjoined the #MeToo phenomenon in helping to make “feminism” the most looked-up word in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary this year.

Demonstrators protest on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for the Women's march on January 21, 2017. © Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, AFP

‘Youthquake’ (Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year)

Defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”, "youthquake" was Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. Young people helped shake up politics in 2017, turning out in record numbers to support opposition and fringe parties in the UK, France and beyond.

Music fans listen as Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, addresses the crowd from the Pyramid Stage during the Glastonbury Festival on 24 June 2017 © Oli Scarff, AFP


Latino music broke global music charts this year. With 4.5 billion YouTube views, “Despacito” by Puerto Rican artists Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee became the most-viewed music video of all time while “Mi Gente” by Colombian-born J Balvin and French artist Willy William hit #1 on Spotify’s list of most-streamed songs worldwide.



The FBI investigation and rampant speculation about whether Trump or any of his campaign advisers colluded with Russia to help swing the 2016 election has haunted the US president’s first year in office.

© France 24


Obstruction of justice can consist of any attempt to “hinder the discovery, apprehension, conviction or punishment of anyone who has committed a crime”, according to the Ohio State Bar Association. The issue of obstruction is the million-dollar question behind Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey and one of the most-feared words for US presidents: Both Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon were accused of obstruction during the Monica Lewinsky and Watergate scandals, respectively. Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate whether Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice among other lines of inquiry involving the Trump administration’s dealings with Russia.

© Jim Watson, AFP

Date created : 2017-12-30