Themes for a New Year: Storylines, Words and Phrases in 2018

At the end of every year, news entities, language companies and others select a word or phrase of the year. In 2017, Merriam-Webster selected “feminism” because of the Women’s March in Washington D.C., the #MeToo movement and other instances of women speaking their minds.

Oxford Dictionaries picked the noun “youthquake” to describe the significant cultural, political or social revolution arising from what Oxford calls the actions and influence of young people in 2017. Other entities selected “complicit,” “resist,” “taking a knee” and even “covfefe,” a word Pres. Donald Trump tweeted that’s meaning remains in dispute.

These words all say something about the intensity of 2017. It got me thinking about what words or phrases would prospectively capture Utah events and stories in 2018.

Utah’s plotlines

The coming year has many storylines. High on the list is the health of the Utah and national economy, which continues to roar with a record-breaking stock market and a $1.5 trillion tax cut ready to grease the skids. The Federal Reserve will continue to raise interest rates, but it won’t be enough to stop a fiscally induced extension of the current expansion.

Many economists (I am not among them) are calling 2018 “in the books.” I don’t think that’s quite right. We have fiscal policy and monetary policy pushing the economy in different directions, and geopolitics remain as unpredictable as they are serious. Some would say “prosperous” is the right word to capture the economy in 2018. I think “sugar high” may be a better fit.

Another local story will be the excitement of even-year elections. The right words for this are “intrigue” and “opportunity.” Four U.S. House seats and a Senate seat are up for grabs. The main event will be the battle for Sen. Orrin Hatch’s position. I’ll stay away from a specific prediction except to say I’m confident Utah will be well served by whatever happens. A Jenny Wilson win would give us a smart, savvy female senator, and a Mitt Romney win would deliver instant relevance in the U.S. Senate. I’m sure there are other captivating possibilities.

Let’s also not forget the exciting 4th congressional district race between Rep. Mia Love and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. This will be a battle royale. If it stays focused on the issues, Utah will benefit. If it strays to mean-spirited campaign-craft coupled with loads of out-of-state money, then the intrigue of the mid-term elections will be hijacked by another possible word for 2018: “pol-i-stink.”

Voters will have the chance to vote on several initiative petitions in 2018. Medical marijuana, political district boundaries, election law, and increased funding for public and higher education are all in the election pipeline. The word that describes this phenomenon best is “choice.”

News junkies will likely see the end of free digital news from The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News in 2018. Both are expected to begin charging a monthly access fee for extensive access to their sites. The American Press Institute reports that 78 percent of U.S. newspapers with circulation over 50,000 are using a digital subscription model. Some use a metered model, where a subscription is required once a certain number of articles have been accessed. Another model is called “freemium.” In this system most articles are free, but a subscription is required for premium content. The phrase for this news development may be “it’s about time.”

There will be plenty of sports to talk about in 2018. I’m not a BYU fan, but I do hope their football team returns to its winning ways. If not, instead of being called “quarterback U” they may be called “BY Who?”

I’m predicting the Utah Jazz will find a way to make the playoffs. This will hinge on Ricky Rubio consistently making layups, which has been a challenge for him during the first half of the season. The Jazz tag line is “Take Note.” I think the word that best sums up the Jazz is “community” because of the generosity of the Larry H. and Gail Miller family.

The word I wish we could use more in 2018, but probably won’t is “harmony.” The last few years created plenty of discord. It’s time to let go of our differences and find agreement.

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.