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I Can’t Shut Up About ‘Goblin Mode’

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

There is but one word to summarize 2022: goblin mode. “But that’s two words,” you say. Yes, exactly. If you’d like to argue about semantics, you can take it up with Oxford Languages, the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary. It recently announced Oxford’s 2022 word of the year, and yes, it is goblin mode.

Unlike previous winners of word of the year, which were chosen based on recent language-data analysis, this year’s word was picked by public vote. Oxford Languages selected three contenders for 2022, each meant to reflect “the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the past twelve months.” Those words were metaverse; #IStandWith, which gained popularity as a way for people to express support for Ukraine; and goblin mode. With 93 percent of the public vote, goblin mode was the clear winner. The people’s word of the year, if you will.

But what even is goblin mode? Well, it has a distinct ferality mixed with all our morbid curiosities. It’s the sudden itch to get on top of a table, rip your clothes off, and screech. You know how dogs get zoomies? Goblin mode is sort of like the human equivalent. It’s more silly than sinister, like Gollum’s personality in Mike Wazowski’s body. An easy way to see what you look like in goblin mode is to accidentally open your front-facing camera. Unlike “cottagecore” or the “clean girl aesthetic,” which imply the adoption of some sort of new, chicer persona, goblin mode does not strive for self-betterment. It’s temporary in nature; we are all but visitors of goblin mode, though some stay longer than others. In this sense, goblin mode is about the journey, not the destination, of which there is none.

Some other figureheads of going goblin mode include: Animal from The Muppet Show; Donnie from  The Wild Thornberries; Louise from Bob’s Burgers, specifically when she gives in to her unending desire to slap people; and the kid from Vine who doesn’t know why he’s shaved his eyebrows.

Oxford officially defines goblin mode as a slang term for “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” BBC Language says it’s characterized by “lazy, greedy, shameless behavior.” The Today show spoke with two psychologists and a nutritionist about goblin mode, a phrase I cannot imagine saying aloud to any medical professional. Earlier this year, Slate got insight on the phrase from an Ohio State University professor who specializes in goblins. I, too, consulted a doctor about the matter: Urban Dictionary user dr. shitheadashole. On June 17, 2020, they defined the word as follows: “When you lose yourself so you resort to becoming a goblin.” What is a goblin? Whatever your nasty little freak heart desires.

If you think this is all over-intellectualizing something that is simply for fun, so does the person credited with the rise in goblin mode’s recent popularity. Like most internet vernacular, the exact origins of goblin mode are unclear, though the phrase was used on Twitter as early as 2009. It spiked in popularity earlier this year after a viral tweet featuring a doctored headline claimed Ye had dumped Julia Fox because he didn’t like when she went goblin mode. Then came the TikToks with goblin filters and Reddit posts asking, “How do I get my husband to stop going goblin mode during sex?” Fox later confirmed the viral headline was fake. “Just for the record,” she clarified in an Instagram Story, “I have never used the term ‘goblin mode.’”

Many of us activated goblin mode during the pandemic — holed up with minimal social contact, waiting for our DoorDash driver to leave so we could scurry out and grab our plastic bag of delights. Post-quarantine, our goblin selves have seeped into the rest of our lives. At one time, leaving the house wearing sweats, let alone wearing them to work or school, would have been deemed goblin behavior. Now, the bar to achieve goblin mode is much higher. Or I guess lower? You really have to strip yourself of all social mores to do anything people would bat an eye at.

Still, there really is no wrong way to go goblin mode. It’s a state you automatically enter after watching an entire season of a show in one sitting. Or when you wear the shirt you slept in the night before and then fall asleep in it again. Or when you take a sneaky drink straight from the container. Or eat a handful of shredded cheese over the sink. In goblin mode, your posture must be so bad that even when you are sitting, you are essentially lying down.

We all go into some form of goblin mode between the end of the holidays and the New Year, unwilling to keep track of the time or change clothes. People who fall asleep lying on the airport floor have entered goblin mode. The mental shift that happens four hours into any road trip? Goblin mode. When you reach the point in a cold that you finally give in to wiping your nose on your sleeve, you are in goblin mode. All children end summer vacation in goblin mode, making this guide on how to de-feralize your kid before school starts only barely satirical. Similarly, if you have ever cared for, seen, or been a toddler, you have experienced goblin mode.

Does the fact that goblin mode is the Oxford word of the year mean that now, when your aunt has dessert, she will forgo the cheeky “I’m so bad” and instead claim she has entered goblin mode? Yes. Has it resulted in the Evangelical Lutheran Church tweeting, “Jesus loves you, even when you feel like you’re in goblin mode”? Sure. But perhaps it’s for the best that we’re all a little more in touch with our goblin selves. Goblin mode is who we are when no one’s around to see. In a yucky way, not a deep way. Regardless, you’ll want to get your goblins out in the coming weeks. In 2023, we’re going “banshee mode.”

I Can’t Shut Up About ‘Goblin Mode’