We binge-watched revenge porn while leaning in and snacking on cronuts. We took a break from being selfie-absorbed (not to mention shelfie-, welfie-, and lelfie-) to cheer Batkid and jeer Glassholes. We ducked out of Thanksgivukkah dinner to vape our e-cigarettes. We worried about drones that spied on our metadata. Wow. Such doge!
It was the silliest of years, it was the most serious of years. And our favorite words expressed all the mood swings.
To compile my Words of the Year list, I followed the American Dialect Society's criteria for selection:
- new or newly popular in 2013
- widely or prominently used in 2013
- indicative or reflective of the popular discourse.
My submissions to the ADS vote, to be held in Minneapolis on January 3:
Word of the year: Obamacare.
Most useful: Binge-watching.
Most likely to succeed: Selfie.
Least likely to succeed: Thanksgivukkah.
Euphemism of the year. Slimdown, Fox News happy-talk for the Republican-led government shutdown that lasted more than two weeks in October. The euphemism was picked up by the Associated Press.
Most creative: Cronut and its many derivatives.
Most outrageous: Revenge porn.
Most unnecessary: Shmeat.
And here’s my full list, which emphasizes words from my beat, the language of commerce. In some cases, I’ve linked to Word of the Week posts previously published here.
Batkid. The media-bestowed nickname for 5-year-old Miles Scott of Tulelake, California, who through the Make-a-Wish Foundation was able to become a superhero for a day (November 15) in San Francisco. Thousands of people turned out to watch the young caped crusader, and the San Francisco Chronicle published a special section that included an article by “Lois Lane.” Miles was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 18 months old, and is now in remission.
Batkid Miles Scott with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (left). Getty Images via Huffington Post.
Binge-watching. The marathon viewing of TV shows such as “Breaking Bad” (whose run ended this year); “House of Cards,” and “Orange Is the New Black” (the first shows to be streamed exclusively on Netflix); and “Alpha House” (the first show to be streamed exclusively on Amazon Prime). Ben Zimmer wrote about binge-watching for the Wall Street Journal in August.
“Bingeworthy” was a holiday-season menu heading on Xfinity On Demand.
Bitcoin. The virtual currency made headlines when its value topped $1,000 earlier this year, and also when the Silk Road website, a marketplace for illegal drugs that accepted only Bitcoin, was shut down. In December the AP Stylebook published a capitalization guideline (Bitcoin for “the concept”; bitcoin for the currency unit). See also bitcoinaire.
BYOD. Initialism for Bring Your Own Device (to work). A growing trend and an increasing source of security concerns (and a big opportunity for cybersecurity companies).
Calculus. Not the branch of higher mathematics or the bad stuff on your teeth but the erudite-sounding political upgrade for “calculation,” “strategy,” or simply “thinking.” “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.” – President Obama, quoted in Washington Post, September 6. “For [Speaker of the House John] Boehner, the political calculus behind such a decision is clear.” – Reuters, October 14.
Cronut. The croissant-doughnut hybrid that spawned a frenzy in New York. It also spawned many similar food blends: dossant, doissant, s’monut (s’more + donut), frissant. Time magazine named the cronut one of the year’s 25 best inventions, and Fast Company’s Co.Create blog called it one of the year’s 20 best advertisements. (I still say that for authenticity’s sake, “cronut” should be pronounced “kwa-nut.”)
Doge. An intentional misspelling of “dog,” used in a popular Internet meme that features photos of shiba inu dogs surrounded by snippets of ungrammatical English exclamations. Alternate universes collided when, on December 6, a Bitcoin forum member introduced Dogecoin, “favored by Shiba Inus worldwide.”
Image via Vice Motherboard blog.
Doxing. “The practice of investigating and revealing a target subject’s personally identifiable information, such as home address, workplace information and credit card numbers, without consent.” In the news in connection with security breaches at the Federal Reserve and Department of Energy.
Drone. Amazon’s announcement about drone delivery brought a domestic twist to the word, which was already in the news a lot in 2013 in a more bellicose context. I predict we’ll be seeing new compounds like dronejacking. See also the X47-B drone.
Ephemeral. Transitory, as in the products of Snapchat, Blink, Gryphn, Frankly, and other mobile applications that cause photos and messages to self-destruct after a defined time period. Ephemerality is “the new buzz word” among some Silicon Valley startup founders and investors, wrote Parmy Olson in Forbes (November 22, 2013).
Fiberhood. A neighborhood wired for Internet access through fiber-optic cable. Google claims credit for the coinage (although I found a much earlier citation).
Glasshole. A person who wears Google Glass in a socially inappropriate way. I hate to give Google two places in this list, but this one’s too apt to omit. More here. See also Geoffrey Nunberg’s 2012 book, Ascent of the A-Word, published before the launch of Google Glass but clearly prescient.
Lean. Both the verb (Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In became a catchphrase) and the adjective (lean branding, the lean startup) were hot topics in 2013. A good example of how an old, familiar word takes on new meaning when it’s re-contextualized.
Metadata. “Data about data,” such as the information about whom you call and from where. The U.S. National Security Agency’s collection of metadata from ordinary citizens came under fire in 2013, and in mid-December a district court judge ruled that the activity was probably unconstitutional.
Native advertising. Euphemism for “paid content that resembles editorial.” Also known as “contextual advertising.” In the news beginning in January, when the Atlantic magazine got into hot water for publishing a “native ad” from the Church of Scientology. See this and this, too.
Obamacare. The big story of 2013 in the U.S. The term was originally used disparagingly, by opponents of health-care reform, and was then embraced by the White House. Then, when it turned out that a lot of people claimed to like the Affordable Care Act but hate “Obamacare” – even though they are the same thing – the White House went back to ACA.
Revenge porn. Sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual. The legal implications were covered extensively in 2013; see Jezebel, Slate, and New York Magazine.
Selfie. Shorthand and diminutive for “self-portrait taken with a mobile phone.” Not new—see this Lexicon Valley post about the word’s Australian history—but newly ubiquitous and productive: see helfie (hairstyle selfie), belfie (bum selfie), welfie (workout selfie), drelfie (drunken selfie), and bookshelfie as well as snowfie (a selfie in the snow) and lelfie (leg selfie). Hat tip for those links to Ben Zimmer.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, and President Obama in a selfie at South African leader Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, December 10. Via the Selfies at Funerals Tumblr (RIP).
Shmeat. Meat grown from animal cells in a lab. A portmanteau of “sheet” and “meat.” A proof-of-concept shmeat-burger was announced this year.
Taper. As a noun, “taper” once referred almost exclusively to candles. This fall, however, the financial community was consumed with speculation about a gradual slowdown of bond-buying by the Federal Reserve. Would it be a Septaper? An Octaper? As it turned out, the government slowdown (or “slimdown,” depending on your bias) put the brakes on taper talk. Ben Zimmer wrote about the nounification of “taper”—he called it “the financial buzzword of the moment”—and Barry Popik tracked the month-blend coinages it inspired.
Thanksgivukkah. The convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah in 2013. According to some calculations, the dual holiday won’t recur for another 75,000 years.
Vape. To inhale an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette).
Image via Bloomberg.com.
Want more? Here’s lexicographer Grant Barrett’s WotY list (also published in the New York Times as “A Wordnado of Words”); the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year (“selfie”); Merriam-Webster’s word of the year (“science,” based on number of lookups); the German word of the year (“GroKo”); Dennis Baron’s copiously illustrated WotY roundup (including his own top pick, “marriage”); Dictionary.com’s word of the year (“privacy”); and the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s word of the year (“bitcoin”).
Update: Ben Zimmer gives Wall Street Journal readers his rundown of “the words that popped in 2013.”