What Is 'Goblin Mode'? Oxford’s Public-Voted Word of the Year Is All About Embracing Your Worst Self

Any time you eat cereal out of a bowl this big, it's goblin mode.
Any time you eat cereal out of a bowl this big, it's goblin mode. / Fuse/Corbis/Getty Images

In late November, Merriam-Webster announced that its 2022 word of the year was gaslighting—a data-driven decision based on the number of (and year-to-year increase in) look-ups.

Oxford Languages—the entity behind the Oxford English Dictionary and other language resources—has a slightly more complex selection process. With the help of language software (and suggestions from dictionary editors and social media users), lexicographers choose a word or phrase that “reflect[s] the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and [has] lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”

But this year, Oxford decided to do things a little differently. Instead of choosing a single term, the researchers chose three—and then they let the public pick which one should be named 2022’s word of the year. After two weeks and some 300,000 votes, we finally have a winner: goblin mode, something you may have experienced firsthand without even knowing it had a name. 

What Is Goblin Mode?

As Oxford Languages explains, the phrase describes “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” 

The concept—a natural antithesis to beast mode, girlbossing, and basically anything else that champions ambition and/or aesthetics—has been around at least since 2009. But it’s become especially popular during the pandemic era, as people have learned to lean into not always looking and acting like their best selves.

For example: It’s dinner time, and you’re eating cereal from a pot with a serving spoon because everything else is dirty. That’s goblin mode. Or maybe it’s 2 p.m., you’re still in bed, and you take a brief break from back-stalking your ex’s new partner on Instagram (you just reached 2016) to drink the Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos crumbs straight from the bag. Is Married at First Sight on your TV? Are you wearing a two-sizes-too-big hoodie (hood up) bearing a two-day-old soy sauce stain? That’s peak goblin mode.

“It’s a relief to acknowledge that we’re not always the idealized, curated selves that we’re encouraged to present on our Instagram and TikTok feeds,” Oxford Languages president Casper Grathwohl said in a statement. “This has been demonstrated by the dramatic rise of platforms like BeReal, where users share images of their unedited selves, often capturing self-indulgent moments in goblin mode. People are embracing their inner goblin, and voters choosing goblin mode as the Word of the Year tells us the concept is likely here to stay.”

The runner-up was metaverse, the virtual reality universe that aspires to be a fully immersive 3D internet. And in third place was #IStandWith, the hashtag phrase used to show support for any number of people and causes; this year, people have mentioned it often in solidarity with Ukraine.

Oxford’s word of the year crown doesn’t carry with it a guarantee that said term will end up in the Oxford English Dictionary. So if you want goblin mode to earn an entry, the best thing you can do is just keep using it as much as possible.