‘Shitpost’ is the digital word of the year

The American Dialect Society’s (ADS) word of the year event, on the go since 1990, is the culmination of the annual WOTY cycle. It showcases the creativity of language users and highlights items of genuine interest and note. For many word lovers it transcends the ambivalence they feel about the custom in general [cough-youthquake-WTF-cough].

ADS words of the year are spread across multiple evolving categories, with an overall winner chosen from that set: political, digital, slang/informal, most useful, most creative, most likely to succeed, euphemism, hashtag, emoji. There’s even a WTF category, this year featuring covfefe, Oh hi Mark, procrastination nanny, and raw water.

Nominations for 2017 were mild compared to the rudefest that was 2015, but there are exceptions: pussyhat (‘pink knitted hat worn by demonstrators at the Women’s March’) was shortlisted for word of the year; askhole (‘person who continuously asks ridiculous or obnoxious questions’) was in the running for most creative; and, most notably, shitpost was declared the digital word of the year.

So what the shit, you might wonder, is shitpost?

Much as shitpaper means toilet paper but shit paper means, for example, the Daily Mail,* the closed-up spelling of shitpost indicates that it is not just a bad post or the act of posting shittily. There’s something else going on.

GIF of cat frantically hitting laptop keyboard

Shitposting is a kind of deliberately bad trolling. The ADS glosses it as: ‘posting of worthless or irrelevant online content intended to derail a conversation or to provoke others’. It achieves these aims typically through distraction, misdirection, nuisance, and casual offensiveness. Know Your Meme says shitposting describes:

a range of user misbehaviors and rhetoric on forums and message boards that are intended to derail a conversation off-topic, including thread jacking, circlejerking and non-commercial spamming.

The Daily Dot says it encompasses:

content of aggressively, ironically, and trollishly poor quality. Incoherent jokes, hasty Photoshopping, mashups, irrelevance, errors in spelling or grammar – all are hallmarks of the shitpost.

Technology editor Andrew Griffin finds that shitposting is often ‘aggressively bad’ and uses ‘recycled information or pictures’, such as outdated image macros, to deliver its anti-message. Run the word through Google Images and you’ll see how meme-friendly it is – it’s not by coincidence that funposting is a euphemistic synonym.

The term seems to have appeared originally on the Something Awful forums in April 2007. [Update: Hugo van Kemenade has antedated it to 1994 (noun) and 1998 (verb); see Wiktionary for citations.] The first Urban Dictionary entry followed in 2008: ‘to make utterly worthless and inane posts on an internet messageboard’ – though this definition understates shitposting’s potential for meme magic.

The practice can be applied in any online discussion, but its use as a political tool is of particular interest. It has even made headlines in mainstream news outlets like the Guardian, Independent, and Quartz:

UK Independent headline: "Shitposting: What is the bizarre online behaviour that could win Donald Trump the election?"

Quartz headline: "The founder of Oculus is funding a group that 'shitposts' anti-Hillary Clinton memes"

So while shitpost has yet to appear in any major dictionary, this may be just a matter of time. And yes, it’s still shitposting even if you’re being ironic, or automated. For more discussion, including how Pepe the Frog fits in, try this Reply All podcast, via Jane Solomon.

Shitpost gained 78 votes in winning the American Dialect Society’s digital word of the year for 2017, beating blockchain (18), digital blackface (19), emergency podcast (20), get the zucc (24), initial coin offering (21), ratio (25), and rogue (34). The overall WOTY winner was fake news. Full details and press release are available here.


* See Iva Cheung’s post for more on adjectival shit.

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