January 19, 2022
A is for anxiety!
by Athena Bryan
“UK children pick ‘anxiety’ as their word of 2021”—blares a headline in The Guardian.
Of course they did, we mutter morosely. Have you seen Euphoria? The kids aren’t alright.
But as a book blog, the onus is upon us, unfortunately, to read the article. (Or maybe this is a legitimate entrant into this blog because it is about a “word”—the things that famously populate books.)
So, let’s break this down one by one. By “UK children” they mean “8,000 children between the ages of 7 and 14 from 85 schools” and when they said “word of 2021” they mean “top words they would use when discussing health and wellbeing.”
I suppose we live in a long and illustrious tradition of statistical assumptions being treated literally in headlines, but “word of 2021” really is a bridge too far. This isn’t the kid’s table equivalent to the opaquely determined “Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year” (which was “vax” incidentally). Although it would be sort of fun if there was a children’s committee that got together and determined the word as arbitrarily as the adult counterpart. I’m picturing the Lost Boys (in Hook, not the J.M. Barrie version—I already gave the book blog justification, get off my back). In my idyllic nostalgia-tinged reverie, they settle on “bangarang.” Ah, my middle school days of yore … I remember my robust and consistent mental health like it was yesterday!
Anyhow, the UK teachers claim the word they’ve been using most when discussing health and wellbeing with their students was “resilience.” So that seems to be working well!
To put in a pin in this choleric blog post, I feel it is incumbent upon me to note that the range they settled on happens to cover the lurching onset of puberty, which is literally when the human brain first feels the chemical pangs of anxiety.
And look, before we get too concerned that the convulsions of history are only now novel and traumatic, I would still submit that we (by which I mean Millennials—those of other generations, get out of here) grew up in a haze of 9/11, a stolen election, the anthrax scare, the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and then there was a financial crisis! And we all turned out fine!
Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.