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'Goblin mode' is Oxford’s word of the year. What does it mean?

Goblin mode is described as a way of life that gives people permission to ditch societal norms and embrace their basic instincts.
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Goblin mode has been declared by popular vote to be Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year. So it's safe to conclude that, two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we're all still just trying to get by.

It's the first time popular vote has determined the word of the year, which is meant to capture “the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the past twelve months,” according to a press release from Oxford Languages. The other two finalists, chosen by Oxford Languages lexicographers, were metaverse and #IStandWith. Goblin mode won 93% of more than 300,000 votes.

Previous year's winners include vax, short for vaccine, in 2021, climate emergency in 2019 and selfie in 2013.

What is goblin mode?

Oxford English Dictionary defines goblin mode, a slang term, as “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” It's most often used in a sentence as "in goblin mode" or "to go goblin mode."

The term was first seen on Twitter in 2009, but it became a popular idea online in February 2022 when people started to return to more aspects of their pre-pandemic lives, according to the press release.

"The term then rose in popularity over the months following as COVID lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly. Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life,’ or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media," the release explained.

Twitter user Dave McNamee, whose tweet about goblin mode went viral in February, said he sees it as a state of mind, The Guardian reported. "Goblin mode is like when you wake up at 2 a.m. and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long T-shirt to make a weird snack, like melted cheese on saltines,” he said. “It’s about a complete lack of aesthetic. Because why would a goblin care what they look like? Why would a goblin care about presentation?”

The relatability of "goblin mode" shows how much COVID-19 has shaped culture over the past two years, according to Oxford Languages president Casper Grathwohl.

"Given the year we’ve just experienced, ‘goblin mode’ resonates with all of us who are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point,” he said. "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 ... 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.”

While there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for goblin mode, it doesn't put a focus on healthy eating or appearances.

And for many social media users, letting their inner goblin out has been a freeing experience. spoke to two psychologists and one nutritionist in March 2022 to get their input on the trend, and they weren't surprised to hear that many people have been embracing their inner goblin as a means of escapism.

"In goblin mode, an individual will do anything not to feel. Instead, they will escape by binge-watching Bravo or Netflix in bed all day while mindlessly scrolling on social media eating snacks rather than actual food to allow them to lose track of reality altogether," licensed psychotherapist and founder of Westside Counseling Center in Los Angeles Susan Zinn says.

Haylie Pomroy, a nutritionist and author of "The Fast Metabolism Diet," says it's only natural that people have turned to coping mechanisms in their diet to help them deal with the harsh realities we've all been living through.

"We adapt to our environment and until we are ready to transform under stress or until we have enough support to transform under stress, this is a defense mechanism that was shared by many during the pandemic," she explains. 

Is goblin mode really problematic?

We’ve all just been trying to get through the past two years. So is there really anything wrong with so-called goblin mode? New York City-based neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., says that extremes are never healthy.

“I don’t like to see my patients obsessed with every aspect of their physical appearance to the point where they are constantly feeling the need to alter it via aesthetic surgery. On the other hand, it’s a sign of depression if someone remains in a constant goblin mode and cares nothing about their appearance. There must be a happy medium," Hafeez tells

Most of us use goblin mode to escape reality, but Zinn says it can have the opposite effect on us in the long run.

"Goblin mode is a quick fix ... rather than choosing a healthier way to regulate their nervous system. Sadly, like all addictions and forms of escapism, participating in goblin mode behaviors will only reinforce feelings of anxiety," she explains.

How do we transition out of the goblin mode phase?

As COVID-19 restrictions ease, the key is to take things one step at a time as you revisit your old routines.

“It has been a long two years of isolation and quarantine, so take it slow, and be mindful of how you feel with every new experience you are adding back into your life in this new liminal space of the 'in between,'" Zinn says. 

As for your diet, Pomroy says baby steps help but adds that sometimes you need to be more strategic to nix bad habits. Consider trying out a nutritional program to help jumpstart healthy eating.

Are there any aspects of goblin mode we should consider keeping?

Believe it or not, there are several positive aspects of goblin mode that you might be tempted to retain as you reenter society, like caring less about what everyone thinks or feeling pressure to socialize and be your best self all the time.

“I suggest that people assess what is important to them. Perhaps material things and labels no longer mean as much. Maybe a woman who once highlighted her gray hair blonde feels confident letting it be natural. Those are healthy choices. Think about the authentic you that you wish to present to the world, not an idealized Instagram version," Hafeez says.

As for your diet, you don't need to ditch junk food for good. After all, what fun is that? Pomroy simply suggests being more mindful of what you're eating to power your body.

“Our bodies are fueled by nutrients, not by deprivation. You can put power on your plate and re-fall in love with food for all that it does for your body," she says.

Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help or talk things out with a friend. "Talking to others can help normalizes your feelings and give hope for the future," Zinn says.