YourDictionary's Word of the Year 2018: Deep State

As 2018 comes to a close and you reflect on the past year, what comes to mind? Do the words Trump, Russians, or immigration spring up? Perhaps Bitcoin and cryptocurrency? No doubt this has been a year of political and financial volatility and any word of the year should be a reflection of the time.

YourDictionary’s team of linguistic experts extensively reviewed what has made the year memorable and decided the word or phrase that best reflected our changing times is deep state. What is deep state you say? If you are not 100% sure of the definition, you are not alone, a Monmouth poll in March 2018 found that 63% of Americans were unaware of the term deep state, but, when it was explained to them, 74% believe the deep state exists.


What Does Deep State Mean?

Deep state is defined as:

"a network of civil servants, military, intelligence, and/or other administrative agencies within a government working to pursue their own agenda, which may be contrary to that of the electorate and their duly elected officials."

It was once a little-used term for shadowy alliances of military officials, government agencies and organized crime in authoritarian regimes such as Turkey or Russia, (originating from the Turkish term derin devlet). Later, it referred to the increased militarization and domestic surveillance of the Bush and Obama years. As Politico put it in September 2017, “A year ago, the term ‘deep state’ was the province of Edward Snowden acolytes and fans of paperback espionage thrillers.”

Now it is used to reference entrenched bureaucrats working around or against whoever is in power, allied, it is claimed, with non-government elements, such as Wall Street and Silicon Valley elites. “It is not too much to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies,” wrote Mike Lofgren, who is believed to have coined the current usage, in his article “Anatomy of the Deep State.”

Does the Deep State Really Exist?

So you know what deep state means, but is it real? Some would say it’s a conspiracy theory. Others claim evidence abounds in the continued Mueller investigation into Russian collusion, which after two years has found no direct link to President Trump.

In his New York Times bestseller, The Russia Hoax, Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett argues that prior to the 2016 election, the deep state was at work trying to protect the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and undermine the Trump campaign.

You can read about this and other alleged deep state activities in our featured examples.

Why Is Deep State YourDictionary’s Word of the Year?

When considering words that had significance for the year, we saw a sharp rise in interest in, and awareness of, deep state from previous years. This was especially true in the US where there has been a growing national discourse on the state of our democracy since the 2016 election. Remember that 74% of Americans believed the deep state existed in March 2018? In an April 2017 poll, that figure was at 48%.



In the first week of January 2018, searches of deep state increased 73% from the previous week, and 91% from the same week the previous year, after President Trump called the DOJ part of the deep state over failing to prosecute Hillary Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin for their mishandling of classified emails while in the State Department.

This phrase came up again and again in lookup trends. It spiked in response to events such as President Trump’s leaked call with President Putin in March and the infamous resistance op-ed in the New York Times in September that claimed White House staff were working to thwart the president.


Media Attention

A search on the NOW Corpus (a database of web-based newspapers and magazines) found the term used 1,066 times in major online publications since the beginning of 2018, from The New Yorker to Rolling Stone. The mainstream media has spent a lot of time this year speculating on the deep state, its dangers, and how the Trump administration can fight it. Conservative Fox News pundits like Sean Hannity have strongly promoted the idea that the deep state is very real and out to destroy President Trump, while moderate news outlets like MSNBC have been asking if a deep state really exists in the US or if it’s just a distraction from the administration’s myriad problems.

The deep state was also the topic of many books out this year, such as the catchily titled The Deep State: How an Army of Bureaucrats Protected Barack Obama and Is Working to Destroy the Trump Agenda, by Jason Chaffetz. The term even inspired the title of a TV show, Epix’s espionage thriller Deep State.


Future of Deep State Usage

The use of deep state in current American culture reflects the divisive mood that is growing within the country’s politics and spilling into everyday life. Liberal people tend to dismiss the idea that Obama-era holdovers have formed a resistance movement within the Trump administration as a conspiracy theory. Conservatives are more likely to feel they have finally woken up to the fact that a shadow government has been manipulating US politics for years (helped by “elites” and the liberal media’s fake news).

You may not have been aware of deep state prior to 2018, but the term has made a strong impression over the past year, and it will continue to be debated in mainstream conversations for some time.

What’s particularly interesting, from a dictionary’s point of view, is that the term has a slightly different meaning depending on geographic location and political climate. Will it in time revert back to its original meaning or will it gain a new nuance? This flexibility is the joy of the English language, and this is why deep state had to be YourDictionary's Word of the Year for 2018.

Do you believe there is a deep state? Or is this all one big conspiracy? Be a part of the debate in the comments below.