Adulting: “Acting like an adult or engaging in activities usually associated with adulthood—often responsible or boring tasks.” Definition via Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl). A verbing of adult, which comes from Latin adultus, “full-grown, mature, firmly established”; English managed quite well without the word until the early 17th century.
Last December Fogarty anointed adulting as the 2014 word of the year. “It’s a new word that I think will catch on,” she wrote:
Adulting isn’t in any mainstream dictionary that I checked, and it wasn’t even added to the Urban Dictionary until June of 2014. Yet today, it shows up about 100 times a day on Twitter and there are many websites and Tumblrs with adulting in their name. It’s clearly in wide use on social media, yet it also hasn’t quite gone mainstream. When I mentioned it to my graduate students at UNR [University of Nevada, Reno], none of them had heard it—but they all seemed to like it.
Adulting “fills a void,” Fogarty wrote. My own inference is that it fills a void because the traditional accoutrements of adulthood (marriage, children, home-owning, full-time work) seem increasingly elusive for people in their post-teen years.
One of the earliest and most prominent adulting blogs is called, simply, AdultingBlog. Launched in July 2011 by Kelly Williams Brown, it’s subtitled “How to Become a Grownup in 468 Easy(ish) Steps”*; in May 2013 the blog’s tips were published in book form (Adulting). But the earliest use of adulting, Fogarty found, was a May 2010 tweet by Daniel Kroft:
Adulting echoes the contemporary structure and sense of parenting, which was originally a noun referring to the physical act of begetting; in the last 40 or so years it has also been used as a verb (“acting like a parent”). A best-selling 1970 advice book by Fitzhugh Dodson, How to Parent, may have helped boost the verb’s popularity. (Dodson later published How to Father and How to Grandparent.) So did an explosion of verbing in the 1990s; the list, according to Rosemarie Ostler, author of Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century, includes to effort, to journal, to no-hit, to multitask, to privilege, and to keynote.
Adulting thrives as a hashtag on social media. Here’s a representative sampling of tweets, some serious and some ironic, posted on a single day (and yes, most #adulting tweets are from young women):
Going out to a fancy dinner to celebrate being 100% debt free except for our mortgage. #adulting— Kruella (@KruellaKraken) September 20, 2015
Did laundry AND got approved for a credit card today #adulting— Andrea (@x19blakey93x) September 20, 2015
Successfully got a rental car and drove on the highway in Florida this weekend #adulting— Caroline McCarthy (@cemccarthy1) September 20, 2015
Okay it's happening. I'm using a power drill. Dear Lord help me not to destroy this house. Or injure myself. #adulting— Ellie Keller (@eleanor_graham) September 20, 2015
Adult and adulting are not, by the way, related to adultery. The latter word has a different Latin root and is related to adulterate, “to make impure; to debase.”
* For more on this trendy use of the -ish suffix, see my October 2014 column for the Visual Thesaurus.