Roundup

The New Geopolitical Vocabulary

From friendshoring to sportswashing, here are six new terms that entered foreign-policy discourse in 2022.

typographical illustrations of 2022 geopolitical terms: Pacing threat, Zeitenwende, polycrisis, integrated deterrence, sportswashing, and friendshoring.
typographical illustrations of 2022 geopolitical terms: Pacing threat, Zeitenwende, polycrisis, integrated deterrence, sportswashing, and friendshoring.
Joel Holland illustration for Foreign Policy
By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.

Gaslighting was recently announced as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. The Oxford English Dictionary, meanwhile, went with goblin mode—a phrase that means “unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” 

In the world of foreign policy, the new words and phrases that became popular are decidedly more wonky. We don’t recommend using them at your holiday parties—unless you’re surrounded by Foreign Policy subscribers. But either way, these new terms, found with increasing frequency in the speeches and articles of policymakers, look here to stay. 

Zeitenwende. A translation from German would be something like “epochal shift” or, more literally, “a turning of the times.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz used the term during a speech in late February to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequences that would follow. Scholz was foreshadowing what could be a transformation in German policy: Berlin would increase military spending and suspend certification of Nord Stream II, a pipeline from Russia long opposed by Ukraine. In the months that followed, observers have asked whether German policy really has changed all that much. As an essay in this publication put it, Scholz announced a new direction for Germany and then proceeded to drag his feet.

Gaslighting was recently announced as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. The Oxford English Dictionary, meanwhile, went with goblin mode—a phrase that means “unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” 

In the world of foreign policy, the new words and phrases that became popular are decidedly more wonky. We don’t recommend using them at your holiday parties—unless you’re surrounded by Foreign Policy subscribers. But either way, these new terms, found with increasing frequency in the speeches and articles of policymakers, look here to stay. 

Zeitenwende. A translation from German would be something like “epochal shift” or, more literally, “a turning of the times.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz used the term during a speech in late February to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequences that would follow. Scholz was foreshadowing what could be a transformation in German policy: Berlin would increase military spending and suspend certification of Nord Stream II, a pipeline from Russia long opposed by Ukraine. In the months that followed, observers have asked whether German policy really has changed all that much. As an essay in this publication put it, Scholz announced a new direction for Germany and then proceeded to drag his feet.

Friendshoring. The New York Times defines it as “the practice of relocating supply chains to countries where the risk of disruption from political chaos is low,” whereas Bloomberg calls it “encouraging companies to shift manufacturing away from authoritarian states and toward allies.” The word has gained currency since the pandemic, but as the United States and China continue to decouple—especially on technology—you can expect it to become more common in the private sector as well.

Integrated deterrence. Apparently at the heart of the Biden administration’s long-delayed National Defense Strategy, integrated deterrence is a framework for working across different warfighting domains and conflicts with various instruments of power as well as alongside allies and partners, according to Sasha Baker, U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. Although this was knocked by some experts—isn’t deterrence already meant to be integrated?—others considered it to be a useful reminder that the United States should take a more holistic view of conflicts as well as the approaches for how to solve them.

Pacing threat. This phrase goes back to at least 2021, when now-U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it during his nomination hearings. A pacing threat is, or comes from, a rival who is making progress toward being able to challenge U.S. defense. Unsurprisingly, given the state of relations between Beijing and Washington, the term gained momentum (not unlike a pacing threat) throughout 2022, as various U.S. officials and departments continue to use it to characterize China’s relationship with the United States.

Polycrisis. Why have just one threat when you could have many, all at once, interacting with one another? That’s a polycrisis. FP columnist Adam Tooze gets credit for popularizing this one. A polycrisis, according to Tooze, involves multiple and compounding risks that, when they bump into one another, could escalate matters, creating greater threats than any single risk individually poses. It “is not just a situation where you face multiple crises. It is a situation … where the whole is even more dangerous than the sum of the parts.” Sounds like 2022 to us!

Sportswashing. A public relations attempt to use sports to cover up a country’s ills. The obvious 2022 example comes from Qatar, which is hosting the World Cup. Thousands of migrant workers have died in that country since naming Qatar the host a decade ago. We tune in to watch the games anyway. But that was part of the point: To critics, Qatar was using the World Cup to improve its image, papering over its pesky human rights problems. That preparations for the World Cup allegedly brought about fresh human rights violations is an irony that doesn’t seem to matter much. It’s safe to predict that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and other rich Persian Gulf states will continue to pump money into sports like soccer and golf to continue to raise their profiles and soft power in 2023. 

It looks likely that all these words will follow us into 2023. Language, after all, is like the news of the world: ever evolving and sometimes changing the most when you least expect it.

Are there other words you started using more frequently in 2022? Add them in the comments box and tell us why.

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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