Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

‘Pushback’ wins “non-word” of the year

1 February 20220 comments

Germany has a tradition of awarding an ‘Unwort des Jahres’ or “Non-Word of the Year” which is given to a word that is inappropriate and which is a popularised term that violates human rights or infringes upon democratic principles. 

It is chosen by a panel of leading linguists and last year’s winner was ‘pushback’.

This is a term, the panel says, that refers to the different measures applied to force migrants and refugees back over a border, usually right after they have crossed it, without giving them any chance to apply for asylum.

Pushbacks violate EU and international law and human rights conventions, but Poland legalised them in October 2021, leading Germany’s Non-Word of the Year organisation to pick the term for 2021.

The Anglicism refers to actions taken at a state border that prevent — often violently — migrants and refugees from crossing into a country or that push them back over the border, without considering individual circumstances and thereby denying the right to claim asylum.

The jury said they chose the word because it is used euphemistically to refer to an “inhumane process” and that pushbacks are violations of various international laws

The runner-up “non-word” for 2021 was “language police” (“Sprachpolizei”), which is used to defame people who advocate for non-discriminatory use of language that furthers equality.   

The “Non-Word of the Year” award is critical in its intent. It aims to highlight poor use of language in the public sphere and show how this can feed discrimination, clash with democratic principles or undermine human dignity.With the award, the jury hopes to increase awareness on the effects of language use.

Anyone may submit a word for consideration, and a jury consisting of independent and voluntary language experts and journalists makes the final decision. 

The “Non-Word of the Year” has been awarded since 1991.

Last year, two words shared the top slot: “Corona-Diktatur” (corona dictatorship), an expression that ridiculed coronavirus control measures by downplaying actual dictatorships, and “Rückführungspatenschaften” (return sponsorships), a “cynical and euphemistic” term for a political arrangement allowing EU member states to sponsor refugees returning home instead of letting them remain in the country.