Photo/Illutration The Oxford English Dictionary (AP Photo)

Goblins that appear in European fairytales as annoying mischief-makers whose attributes vary from impish to downright nasty.

But the title character of the short story “The Goblin and the Grocer” by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) is quite “human” for his indecision: He can’t decide whether to live on the ground floor with a grocer who gives him dishes of delicious porridge, or with the impoverished student who reads poetry in the attic.

The Oxford University Press, the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, has announced that “goblin mode” has been chosen as the Oxford Word of the Year for 2022.

Defined as “a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations,” it conjures images of lazing around and snacking on junk food in a messy room.

This neologism represents a popular backlash against the idealized, fastidiously edited images of “the perfect lifestyle” that came to overtake social media.

I could not agree more with the publisher’s analysis to the effect that the term “captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to normal life” after COVID-19 restrictions eased in many countries.

In fact, I myself felt as if my value system was changing during lockdown. Deciding to live a wholesome, eco-friendly life, I started baking whole-grain breads and remaking my old clothes.

But every time I looked at my smartphone, images of sublime “examples” hit my eyes, making me realize the hurdle was far too high for me to even try.

And that must have been the sort of awareness that led to goblin mode--that many are fed up with all the glitz and glamour on social media, and that it was OK to just remain as an imperfect self.

In Andersen’s story, the goblin stops wavering in the end and decides to divide his time between the grocer and the student. Poetry enriches the soul, but one has to eat, too.

His having the best of both worlds makes me truly envious as an anxious human being.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.