Saturday, November 17, 2018

The inevitable, tragic — and ultimately necessary — death of the kilogram

Farewell to the objects that defined our units of measure.

Two one-kilogram weights on a scale in Saussay-la-Campagne, France. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Oliver Morton, a senior editor at the Economist, is the author of “The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World.”
London’s Science Museum is amply stocked with cabinets of wonder. In its mathematical gallery, though, there is a cabinet of not-needing-to-wonder. The sets of weights stored in its 71 mahogany drawers like toys in a hyper-organized toy box provided Lord Castlereagh, Britain’s foreign secretary, with welcome certainty about what weighed what around the world. They had been furnished, at Castlereagh’s command, by British consuls abroad, so that what counted as a libra in Rio de Janeiro could be compared with a funt from St. Petersburg or a pound from Philadelphia; and the discrepancies between them — in ounces, zolotniks and onças — recognized and accounted for.
The cabinet is a doubly worldly object. It covers the whole wide world of early-19th-century trade, and it evinces a worldly acceptance of human disparity and vagary. Not for Castlereagh the idealism of trying to set up a single global system of measurement, as revolutionary France had done with its invention of the meter (one 40,000th of the Earth’s circumference) and the kilogram (one 1,000th of the weight of a cubic meter of pure water). Whether it was in weights and measures or the rights of man, such universalism was deeply suspect. That His Majesty’s government should know for sure what the foreigners were talking about was quite sufficient.
In the 200 years since, though, the world has slowly come to prefer highfalutin’ Gallic universalism to pragmatic British interoperability. When scientists measured the same things as tradesmen — lengths, breadths, weights and the like — they could make use of the customary units that came to hand (some of which, like the span, were actually based on the hand). But once they started to measure things beyond the immediate realm of the senses, such as electric charges and magnetic moments, they needed units of their own. 
These were developed systematically, and the resulting International System of Units saw the kilogram and the meter, which had gone into brief eclipse after the restoration of the French monarchy, returned to scientific and everyday use. In almost all countries — including, since 1963, Britain — the kilogram is the official unit of mass. Only the United States, Liberia and Myanmar have held out.
But knowing what weighs a kilogram still requires that, like one of Castlereagh’s civil servants, you have some physical basis of comparison. In the case of the kilogram, the ultimate comparator has, for more than a century, been a precisely machined archetype made of platinum and iridium and housed in a vault in Paris, “Le Grand K.”
On Friday, this ended, as the International Committee for Weights and Measures abandoned Le Grand K. From now on, the committee will instead define mass purely in terms of the frequency of a particular resonance in cesium atoms and two universal constants: Planck’s constant, ubiquitous in quantum mechanics, and the speed of light. 
This does not just mean that that singular lump of platinum and iridium can finally lay down the burden of being the most precisely calibrated burden there is and move on to a comfortable retirement in a suitable museum. It is the end of an era more generally. The Paris kilogram was the last link between the way that humankind — or at least the scientific and legalistic bits of it — measures the universe and any individual objects within it.
Once there was a specific physical standard for the meter, too — a rod of metal that neither expanded nor contracted. Other units were defined in more general but still specifically earthly ways. The second was one 86,400th of a day — a period of time that astronomers calculated obsessively. More reconditely, the candlepower, a predecessor to the candela, the unit by which the brightness of light is now measured, was defined until the first half of the 20th century in terms of the light produced by a candle made from pure spermaceti — the wax from a sperm whale’s head — burning at a rate of 120 grains an hour. The grain, in its turn, was a measure of mass dating back to what King Offa (an Anglo-Saxon monarch better known for constructing defenses against the marauding Welsh) reckoned a grain of wheat weighed. 
All this history and specificity is now washed away. The seven basic units of measurement from which all other units of measurement are derived — the kilogram, the second, the meter, the ampere (electric current), the candela, the Kelvin (temperature) and the mole (the unit of quantity) — will be defined in terms of constants that should be the same everywhere in the universe. Some of these constants play profound roles in physics: As well as Planck’s constant, there is Boltzmann’s constant, which crops up in the laws of thermodynamics, and the speed of light in a vacuum, a quantity so central to relativity that it might as well be called as Einstein’s constant. Others are arbitrary, like that particular property of cesium atoms that, through its frequency, defines the second. But all of them are universal, the same on a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri as they are on Earth. No standards in vaults need be consulted; no sperm whales need give up their wax.
There is a depth to this decision that goes beyond metrological tidiness. If humankind cannot agree on universal rights, it can at least agree on universal amperes, defined only by the behavior of any cesium atom and the charge on any electron. It is hard not to think us a little grander as a result. But also a bit more exposed. In dispensing with the props of specifically earthly measures, we face the universe on its own terms. 
Edmund Burke, an Irish conservative of the generation before Castlereagh’s, understood the sublime as the apprehension of nature’s fearful power from a vantage point of personal safety. The feeling some adults experience on the death of their parents — a sense of being, finally and irrevocably, on the front line and of looking eternity, or its absence, in the face — is a form of that sublime. And there is something of the same feeling in abandoning measures that have stories, measures that can be secured in comforting boxes, old measures from and of the human world, in favor of the unyielding, inhuman constants of the uncaring universe.
It is a small change in outlook — you would be hard put to quantify it, whatever units you used. But perhaps you can feel it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Why the ‘P’ word — propaganda — might be best for what we're seeing on our TV screens

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times, Nov 16, 2018 | 4:00 AM

See also (1) Walter Isaacson, "A Declaration of Mutual Dependence," The New York Times (2004), which states: "Thus the Declaration of Independence is, in effect, a work of propaganda -- or, to put it more politely, an exercise in public diplomacy intended to enlist other countries to the cause." (2)  John Brown, "Propaganda and Public Diplomacy: Their Differences," American Diplomacy (2003)
Why the ‘P’ word — propaganda — might be best for what we're seeing on our TV screens
President Donald Trump speaks during a conference supporting veterans and military families through partnership at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

The “P” word. 

But here we are, two years in, tiptoeing around The Word That Cannot Be Said. Let’s just call it what it is: Propaganda.

The state-sponsored spread of deliberate misinformation is not a “half-truth,” “distortion of reality” or “the president’s loose relationship with the facts,” as many a mainstream news correspondent and pundit have said. It’s also not “a bold truth” or simply “The Truth” as many voices on the right have asserted.

The doctored “karate-chop” video of CNN’s Jim Acostaallegedly manhandling a White House intern at a press conference, posted by press secretary Sarah Sanders last week, was not a matter of differing perspectives, dueling truths or conflicting political beliefs. Nor were the White House transcripts of public meetings where Trump’s flubs were mysteriously omitted, altered presidential approval ratings posted by Don Jr. before the midterms or the cropped photo that Sean Spicer insisted was proof of the biggest inaugural crowd ever. “Period!”

They were all cases of purposefully manufactured narratives, disseminated from the highest levels of government, sometimes with the help of adversary nations, to sway public opinion, quash dissenting voices and consolidate power.

I know, it’s not half as fun as Kellyanne Conway’s wacky spiel on alternative facts or just Trump being Trump. In fact, it’s associated with some of the uglier chapters of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

Propaganda is something most of us read about in history class and wondered how people were so easily duped. Certainly they saw through such obvious attempts to manipulate? Its use dates back well before Nazi Germany and Cold War Russia and stretches up to present-day China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. It arrives in the form of fake Facebook accounts created abroad and meant to influence our elections, or surveillance video from a Turkish embassy where Saudi operatives sought to cover up a murder by posing as their victim. 

It’s the mark of a country we never wanted to be: a nation that divides its own people and pits them against one another. And it never ends well. 

On page one of any political science textbook it will say that democracy relies on people being informed about the issues so they can have a debate and make a decision,” Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist who studies the persistence and spread of misinformation, told the BBC shortly after Trump’s inauguration. “Having a large number of people in a society who are misinformed and have their own set of facts is absolutely devastating and extremely difficult to cope with.” 

No wonder fabrications from the Oval Office are often viewed as singular events or anomalies caused by an outsider who crashed Washington rather than age-old propaganda. It’s too frightening to admit the calls are coming from inside the house.

Orwellian state messaging has even permeated the TV series we binge for entertainment. Shall we be terrified by “The Man in the High Castle” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” tonight, honey? We’ve also been desensitized by reality TV, the modern-day answer to the documentary, where scripted moments of drama are an acceptable and almost expected part of serialized “reality.” 

Take Trump’s old show “The Apprentice,” where the bankruptcy-prone son of a real estate mogul was reimagined into a self-made billionaire. The lines between fantasy and reality weren’t just blurred by “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett, they were erased entirely and redrawn by some of television’s best alchemists.

It was all fun and games and great ratings until someone got elected to office. 

With such deep cultural references as “You’re Fired!” permeating American society, it’s no wonder the idea of propaganda seems like a relic from the paranoid 1950s or a cruel fate meant for other countries with fist-shaking Ayatollahs or military strongmen. We’ll stick with Rosie the Riveter, thanks, a nostalgic symbol of the domestic war effort. She smiled on the factory floor while assembling deadly munitions. What could be cuter? And please don’t say Flo, the perky Progressive Insurance lady. 

President Bush stands in front of the now-famous "Mission accomplished" banner on May 1, 2003.
President Bush stands in front of the now-famous "Mission accomplished" banner on May 1, 2003. (Stephen Jaffe / AFP/Getty Images) 

There’s of course nothing new about politicians evangelizing their version of events or extolling their successes. George W. Bush gave the “mission accomplished” thumbs up shortly after the U.S. invaded Baghdad, though the mission was predicated on faulty intel and the war would drag on for over a decade. Barack Obama graciously accepted the Noble Peace Prize as the drone strikes he ordered killed civilians in Pakistan.

War propaganda is as old as, well, war. And hard spin is used just as frequently to influence in diplomatic times. Leaders must always look like leaders. But perhaps you’ve heard: This presidency isn’t like the others.

In July when speaking to a group of veterans in Kansas City about his distrust of the media, Trump said it plainly: “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

He couldn’t have been more truthful, at least in that instance.

The altered Acosta video, which appeared to have been uploaded by Sanders from the conspiracy-minded website InfoWars to her Twitter feed, was used to justify banning the CNN correspondent from future press briefings, and now CNN is suing. No word yet if Final Cut Pro will be hired as the next press secretary.
This pair of photos shows a view of the crowd on the National Mall at the inaugurations of President Barack Obama, above, on Jan. 20, 2009, and President Donald Trump, below, on Jan. 20, 2017..
This pair of photos shows a view of the crowd on the National Mall at the inaugurations of President Barack Obama, above, on Jan. 20, 2009, and President Donald Trump, below, on Jan. 20, 2017.. (Associated Press)  
That wasn’t the only clumsy attempt at recasting a moment already witnessed by millions. Recently released government documents acquired through a Freedom of Information request confirmed what many suspected following Trump’s first days in the White House. The Guardian reported that “a government photographer edited official pictures of the inauguration to make the crowd appear bigger” after a request by Trump “who was angered by images showing his audience was smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009.”
He called the correction “fake news,” a phrase that Trump seems to have brought into the lexicon to muddy the waters.
Trump propaganda is of course reflected and fed by his unofficial media wing, Fox News. It’s a back-and-forth feeding frenzy that’s become so acceptable at the network that even two of its star hosts campaigned on stage alongside the president at political rallies.
So many ethical lines have been crossed in the past two years, it’s doubtful anyone — let alone Sean Hannity — can locate where the defining boundaries of “normal” used to be.
There are a few who can see through the gentle euphemisms — namely, the old guard who remember a time when Russia was the enemy, presidents showed their tax returns and Gold Star families were honored by their country’s Commander in Chief. Military analyst Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, left Fox News but not before stating: “With the rise of Donald Trump, Fox did become a destructive propaganda machine. And I don’t do propaganda for anyone.”
Still, the slow drip of repeated terms like “fake news” wears a groove that’s hard to get out of, even when the real fake news is coming from the White House and undermining democratic institutions critical to our nation’s health. And let’s not forget the sharpest tool of all: fear. Beware of caravans, Nancy Pelosi, transgender bathrooms, black women journalists, yadda, yadda.
Many in the media must have expected Trump to develop from a reality-show ringleader to a world leader when they used non-corrosive terms like “distortions” and “half-truths” while correcting his 2017-era falsehoods.
But by his second year in office, even the euphemisms got tired. Now several mainstream journalists use the L-word: lie.
Perhaps the “P-word” is next.

[Americana:] Friday night plight: Parents, players rethinking football

The Centennial Eagles in Howard County, Maryland, are back on the field after a year without varsity football. The Eagles have had trouble finding enough players for a team and did not scored a single point all season. (Photograph by Steve Ruark/Special to The Washington Times)
The Centennial Eagles in Howard County, Maryland, are back on the field after a year without varsity football. The Eagles have had trouble finding enough players for a team and did not scored a single point all season. 
- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2018
Kevin Donalson has an enviable football pedigree. The high school sophomore’s father played college ball at Morehouse in Atlanta and worked as an assistant high school coach in football-crazed Louisiana.
But the younger Donalson, a defensive back at the District of Columbia’s Gonzaga College High School, joined a growing American narrative last season when he suffered a concussion at practice.
Donalson’s mother, Kimberly, said the school did a good job caring for Kevin and communicating with the family, and she knows how much her son loves the game. But if the teenager suffers another head injury, she said, that’s it for football.
“I have always said if he gets another concussion, we are done,” Mrs. Donalson said. “He is cognizant of what CTE is. He understands the consequences of an injury.”
Mrs. Donalson is hardly the only parent wrestling with football’s risks. Participation numbers in high school football are down nationally and in the Washington region as fear of concussions and other injuries take a toll on America’s Friday night pastime.
High school football enrollment has dropped 6.6 percent in the past 10 years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, and the total number of players decreased by 20,320 from 2016 to 2017. But football is still the most popular sport at the high school level, with 1,036,842 boys playing last year. 
Football participation in the District has increased 4.4 percent from 2013 to 2017, but numbers are down in Maryland and Virginia. Participation in Maryland has fallen a full 10 percent since 2013, and Virginia has reported a 7.4 percent decline.
Some schools have canceled seasons altogether because of a lack of interest. Among local high schools to drop varsity football this fall were Manassas Park and Park View in Northern Virginia and Bladensburg in suburban Maryland.
In football-crazy Texas, statistics for the 2017 season look almost identical to those of 2013. But a small East Texas high school canceled its football season this year after several players were injured early on and the team didn’t have enough replacements.
The high school numbers reflect an even more drastic shift at the lower youth football level, where children first learn the sport.
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, tackle football participation among all players 17 or younger dropped 30 percent in the U.S. over the past decade. In Maryland, Anne Arundel County’s youth football association lost 33 percent of its participation from 2011 to 2016. The Virginian-Pilot reported that numbers for the under-10 and ages 10-14 leagues in Virginia Beach dwindled from 1,376 players in 2012 to 516 in 2017.
For years, many players at the youth level have left football when they reach high school because of a lack of interest or pressure to specialize in another sport at which they are more adept.
But football is still America’s favorite sport by far, whether judged by TV ratings or high school participation. When the sport disappears, as it did at one school near Baltimore last year, people notice.
Centennial returns
The Centennial High School Eagles were down big to Mount Hebron on Sept. 28. The final score that night was 47-0. In fact, Centennial didn’t score a point all season.
But some Centennial fans and families were happy just to have a team at all.
The Ellicott City, Maryland, high school did not field a varsity footballteam last year because of a lack of players and concerns about player safety, but it brought the game back this fall.
Centennial’s athletic director and some students said the team helped boost school spirit even without a lot of success on the field. The mother of a wrestler said it was embarrassing for Centennial to be the only school in Howard County without a football program.
John Davis, the coordinator of athletics for Howard County Public Schools, is a former football coach in the county who played in high school and college. He called the sport “pretty resilient.”
“Coaches are not dumb,” Mr. Davis said. “They are coming up with [tackling] techniques that are better. They will find a way [to keep the sport viable], especially since the NFL is so big. There is going to be a place for it. There will be football.”
Centennial fan Drew Carlson stood on an incline near the bleachers at Centennial during the Mount Hebron game. His son Tom was a backup quarterback at Centennial earlier this decade. Mr. Carlson doesn’t have any children at Centennial now, but his wife works at the school and helps out under the Friday night lights.
“They did not have enough kids [last year]. It is a pretty academic place. Football is not high on the list,” he said.
Centennial forfeited its Oct. 12 game against Howard but vowed to finish the season. Mr. Davis, the head of Howard County athletics, said Centennial had just 13 players available to face Howard. “We did not feel that was safe,” he said.
The Eagles had 20 available players for its game the following week against Reservoir and lost 50-0. The team has also lost 47-0, 37-0, 45-0 and 56-0 this season.
The beatings have fueled concerns of parents watching anxiously from the stands.
Doug Shea, whose son Flynn is a freshman at the school and is in the Centennial marching band, was also on the sidelines for the game against Mount Hebron in September.
“They have three times the number of players,” said Mr. Shea, pointing to the Mount Hebron bench.
Elizabeth Murphy, the mother of a Mount Hebron player, said she would not let her son play if he attended Centennial.
“I think when you talk about making it safer, there’s safety in numbers,” Mrs. Murphy said. “When you have more kids that are interested in the sport, then that generates more interest in creating a safer environment.”
“My father was a former high school coach,” the parent of a Centennial sophomore said. “He had a kid break his neck. The kid died a couple days later. So, no contact sports. I was never allowed to play contact sports after that.”
Pros’ perspectives
Colt McCoy grew up in West Texas, and his life revolved around football. So did the lives of most everyone around him.
On Friday nights in the fall, towns would practically shut down during high school games, the Washington Redskins’ backup quarterback said. Traffic lights would stay green because no one would be on the road. Convenience stores and local shops would close early.
“I lived in a town of 700 people, but there was 3,500 people at our Friday night football game,” said McCoy, who played high school ball in Tuscola. “So it was like, ‘Where’d these people come from?’”
McCoy understands why some schools in Virginia have eliminated football. He realizes that parents are concerned about the safety of the sport.
At the same time, McCoy said, he feels that the new emphasis on players’ health has made the game safer.
“The league is aware, and there’s lots of talk about it and there’s rule changes being put in place to protect them,” he said. “I think it’s getting better from that standpoint.”
Redskins linebacker Mason Foster was surprised to learn that some programs had shuttered because of a lack of participation. He called the schools’ decisions “messed up.”
Foster, a native of Seaside, California, recounted the lifelong friendships he has made from football and the places he otherwise would not have traveled.
“I grew up with a lot of kids who couldn’t make weight to play Pop Warner, so they had to wait until high school to play,” Foster said. “So I think if you cut out high school football programs, that’s kind of sad.
“But at the end of the day, it is a dangerous game and people are finding out people have all these head things and people going crazy and all that. I completely understand because nobody wants to shorten your life.”
Foster and McCoy said they would let their children play football regardless of the risks.
McCoy, a father of three, and his wife had their first son in July. The quarterback said he won’t let his son participate in tackle football until he has developed physically and can understand coaching.
Foster’s two sons, ages 5 and 3, have expressed interest in the game. He said they play recreationally at school and often play the “Madden” football video game.
Foster, like McCoy, said he will wait until his children are older before he allows them to play tackle but added that it’s ultimately the child’s decision.
“Every parent has a different mindset about it, but as far as the way that my family, the way me and my wife handle it, [it’s] whatever they want to do, they can do it,” Foster said.
McCoy said he might not be so passionate about football if he had been born somewhere other than Texas. Maybe, he said, he would be playing lacrosse instead.
As it turns out, McCoy can’t imagine a world without football.
“I like football from a team standpoint because you learn so many things about yourself than just, ‘I can throw a football,’” McCoy said. “You learn discipline, how to be a teammate. … I can go down the list outside of drawing up a play and being a part of it.”
What the future holds
Football coaches at nearly all levels have been forced to defend their sport — or at least promote it.
Towson football coach Rob Ambrose, who grew up near Frederick, Maryland, has a tangible way of explaining how the game is safer than in the past.
“I remember looking at the helmet that my father wore,” Ambrose said. “How is he not injured for the rest of his life? We are smarter than we were before.”
Ambrose, 48, takes pride in what he calls “espousing the greatness of the game” while pointing out that it has changed for the better.
“I remember when they told us water [breaks] made us soft,” Ambrose said. “We are constantly evolving. That should never change.”
Elijah Brooks is coach of the high school powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School in the Washington suburb of Hyattsville, Maryland. He also is a coach and board member at USA Football, the sport’s national governing body at the amateur level.
Brooks is familiar with the challenges facing the sport but said USA Football is addressing safety issues. He sees that happening at DeMatha.
“Over the past few years, our kids have had to undergo three different baseline concussion tests so our training staff can identify head injuries sooner,” Brooks said. “Our staff has to sit through several courses at the beginning of the year to identify concussion symptoms and when kids are dehydrated. We are very confident in our training staff and the procedures put in to keep kids safe.”
Brooks said parents sometimes decide to start their children in footballat a later age or choose flag football, but “we still see many kids playing the game.”
Greg Gattuso, the University of Albany’s head coach, said he sees similarities to his time coaching at the high school level.
“Back in 1989 to 1993, we were talking about the same thing back then,” Gattuso said. “JV teams were disbanding. I think it is a trend in society. I think the concussion thing has had an impact on that. I think the changes football is making will save the game.”
Meanwhile, the numbers of those worried about football safety seem destined to grow with every multimillion-dollar lawsuit or troubling new brain study.
Mrs. Donalson, holding her breath in the stands on a chilly fall Friday night in Landover, Maryland, said she can’t help but worry.
Watching as her son and his Gonzaga teammates took on powerhouse DeMatha, she said, “He is one of the smaller kids on his team. He has never allowed that to stop him.”
⦁ Washington Times sports intern Owen Dunn contributed to this report.

‘Toxic’ is Oxford Dictionaries’ 2018 word of the year. ‘Gaslighting' and ‘techlash’ are among runners-up.

Isaac Stanley-Becker,, November 16 at 5:19 AM

 image from
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“Toxic” was judged to “have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance."
“In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics,” observed the online dictionary, produced by Oxford University Press.
Among the runners-up was “gaslighting.” Coined by the 1938 play “Gas Light” and later made famous by the 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman, as Oxford said, it means “the action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity.” The dictionary noted its frequent use to describe tactics employed by President Trump.
The concept has also been applied to political contexts this year, with the term used extensively of President Donald Trump; his frequent assertions that the media are spreading ‘fake news’, and implications that his administration is the sole arbiter of truth, have led to Trump’s presidency of the United States being compared to an abusive relationship.
Also on the shortlist was “big dick energy.” Oxford’s definition is at odds with Trump’s posture. The phrase means “an attitude of understated and casual confidence."
“Though the term has its roots in the perceived confidence of the well-endowed,” according to the dictionary, “BDE is by no means exclusive to those with male genitalia; many women, such as Rihanna, Serena Williams and Cate Blanchett, are among those identified as having this low-key, self-assured poise.” 
Other options were “cakeism” — the doctrine of having one’s cake and eating it too, as Britain has been accused of doing when it comes to the nation’s vexed exit from the European Union — and “techlash.” That portmanteau describes “a strong and widespread negative reaction to the growing power and influence of large technology companies particularly based in Silicon Valley,” according to Oxford’s definition. (See, for example, this New York Times exposé.)
Oxford’s 2017 word was “youthquake,” defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” In 2016, it was the ominous “post-truth.”
There was a 45 percent increase in the number of times that “toxic” was looked up on in 2018. The word found increasingly diverse uses, according to the dictionary, both in the adjective’s literal sense — relating to poison and likely to cause death — and its metaphorical sense — generally harmful or corrosive, as in a toxic political culture or a toxic relationship. 
Among the word’s most common collates — words that accompanied “toxic” — were “masculinity,” “culture” and “air.”
The dictionary noted that toxicity was a common feature of some of the year’s most high-profile news events, from the waste seeping from the southeastern United States during hurricane season to the use of the nerve agent Novichok in an attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Air pollution was among the risks highlighted by last month’s report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Though 'toxic' took the title, it's by no means the only word that caught our attention this year. Find out about the words that made our shortlist at the Word of the Year hub: 

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But the term was perhaps even more aptly applied to regressive cultural and workplace practices facing sustained scrutiny, as the #MeToo movement continued to shift expectations about gender relations and the exercise of power in the home and in industries spanning politics, technology and academia. There were walkouts at Google and resignations on Capitol Hill. A lawsuit cast a bright light on arcane, boundary-pushing interpersonal dynamics in rarefied scholarly circles. 
Meanwhile, the president continued to use jarring personal attacks in his feuds with female adversaries, calling Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress who alleges that she had an affair with Trump, “Horseface.” And the battle over the confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh, became a melee about sexual assault and binge drinking. After “chemical,” the word “masculinity” was most often paired with “toxic,” according to the dictionary.
Dictionaries, like many institutions and individuals, have discovered this year that politically neutral ground is fast disappearing., in particular, has not been shy about responding to the news of the moment. On Thursday, the online dictionary appeared to scold a writer from the Washington Examiner who had called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the liberal firebrand and Democratic congresswoman-elect, a “girl” in a tweet accusing her of hypocrisy for wearing decent clothes to work.
The dictionary has previously taken to social media to correct the president’s prolific spelling and diction errors, observing that online searches were skyrocketing for the words in his eyebrow-raising tweets.