30 new words added to the dictionary in 2019

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October 9, 2019
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30 new words added to the dictionary in 2019

Language is constantly evolving, and new words and phrases regularly permeate the English language. From "goose-steppers" and "talkie" in the 1920s to "selfie" and "binge-watch" in the 2010s, new words crop up as technology and trends continue to develop. Sometimes they are portmanteaus, or abbreviations, that stick. In the past 10 or 15 years, social media has played a fairly substantial role in promulgating the use of new words, and by its mere existence, has led to everyday words sometimes changing meanings.

Facebook and Instagram have transformed the word "like" into something synonymous with providing a click of approval of a photo, assertion, or link, for example. When Ellen DeGeneres snapped that famous photo of herself and other celebs at the 2013 Academy Awards, the term "usie" (pronounced like "fussy"), for a group selfie was hardly in existence yet, but it caught on in the social media world shortly afterward.

For a word to be added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, its editors regularly trawl through books, newspapers, magazines, and other published materials, zeroing in on new words and new uses of existing words. They underscore words and passages of interest and add them to a computer system so they’re stored in a machine-readable format, as well as on index cards used to create citations.

Dictionary editors are in charge of reviewing the citations in groups that cover small swaths of the alphabet, and determine whether existing entries can stay as they are, or whether they need to be amended. To make it into the dictionary, a word has to come up with numerous citations derived from a diverse selection of publications.

Stacker has compiled a list of 30 new words added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2019, from “sesh,” to “bug-out bag,” to “garbage time.” In addition to the definition of the word as defined by Merriam-Webster, Stacker provides some background on how the word rose to prominence using sources including Time magazine, CNN and Psychology Today. Here, see if you recognize these words and even use them yourself.

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Initially used by psychologist Francis Galton in 1880, aphantasia is the inability to create mental images of people, places, or things, real or fictional. Neurology professor Adam Zeman and his team published a paper in 2015 that renewed interest in aphantasia, referring to it as “congenital” aphantasia. In 2017, cognitive neuroscience post-doctoral fellow Rebecca Keogh published a study at the University of New South Wales in Australia to uncover why people cannot conjure mental images.

Autogenic training

Autogenic training is a self-relaxation technique created by German neurologist Johannes Schultz in 1932, made up of six exercises involving phrase repetition, designed to evoke feelings of warmth and heaviness. In the 1970s, Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute founder Dr. Herbert Benson included autogenic training in the institute’s list of relaxation treatments. The British Autogenic Society was established in the 1980s, and similar such training centers have popped up in heavily populated areas.

Bechdel test

Alison Bechdel of Fun Home fame created this feminist test, which first appeared in her 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. It is a way to determine whether women are portrayed in sexist or stereotyped ways in film, theater, or any other media. To pass the test, more than one woman must show up in the story, the women must talk to each other, and they must discuss something other than a man. Bechdel has credited the idea behind the test to her friend Liz Wallace and expressed interest in renaming it the Bechdel-Wallace test. It has been referred to as "the standard by which feminist critics judge television, movies, books, and other media."


Bioabsorbable is commonly associated with vascular stents capable of being absorbed into living tissue, thus potentially presenting fewer complications from metal stents. The word itself means the ability of a substance to absorb into natural, living tissue. Bioabsorbable stent research has sprung up in cardiovascular research, though such technology is still under development, yielding pros and cons.

Bug-out bag

A bug-out bag (BOB) is a kit or bag containing survival items such as food and other provisions stored in case of an emergency evacuation. The bag is typically filled with enough provisions to last 72 hours, though some bags are made to last longer. BOBs also go by other names, such as go-bag, 72-hour kit, and battle box. The term first came into existence when U.S. military forces were carrying out rapid displacements during the Korean War. In that context, “bugging out” was a military tactic to ensure that frontline soldiers would be able to move away from defensive positions with just the vital supplies they needed.


As the word might suggest, buzzy means something that brings on a lot of talk and speculation, like a song or movie that generates a buzz. It also can mean a swath of activity or excitement. Although the first known use of the word buzzy was in 1842, the word has undergone various changes over the years; buzz in the sense of feeling a little drunk was first recorded in 1935. To give someone a buzz, as in a phone call, can be traced back to 1922.


Meaning bias or discrimination fueled by skin color, colorism finds its roots in slavery, when owners were biased in favor of slaves with lighter skin. Brent Staples wrote about the phenomenon in the 1940s, and Alice Walker gave it a name in her 1983 essay, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” Walker described colorism as "prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color," though this kind of prejudice has existed for centuries. Some news organizations wrote about the pervasion of colorism in the entertainment industry in the 2010s.


While this technical term for fear of clowns came into common use relatively recently, the phobia itself has existed for years. In fact, about 7.8 % of Americans can empathize with having clown fear. Clown fear comes up in various films and books, famously in Stephen King’s “It,” in which the evil force manifests as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The term coulrophobia cropped up in the 1980s or 1990s.

Deep state

Deep state is a supposed secret network of government agents, and at times private bodies, that works outside the law to manipulate government policy. The term has been traced to the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and has been evident in Turkey and Pakistan. Nowadays, news organizations have published stories centering on President Donald Trump's theory of the existence of a deep state in this country.

Escape room

Escape Rooms are game rooms in which a group of participants are locked in a room and must solve a set of puzzles to get out of the room. These rooms started to gain popularity in the mid-2010s; only 22 escape rooms existed in the United States in 2014. By 2017, just shy of 2,000 such game rooms had popped up around the country. The New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz posits that escape rooms started trending in tandem with the increasing popularity of nerd culture and social media.

Free solo

In this form of rock climbing, climbers use no ropes or safety equipment—they rely on their own strength and skill to scale a mountain or structure. Although the first known use of the phrase was in 1984, it gained popularity in part through the documentary “Free Solo,” portraying rock climber Alex Honnold’s free solo ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite in 2017. It has also been associated with other free soloists, as well as with free solo-related deaths.

Garbage time

The phrase garbage time might seem logical to refer to a trash pickup, but it actually denotes the last moments of a sports game where one team has a runaway advantage, substitutes are tapped in to replace top players, and scoring becomes easier because of more lax defense. It is said that broadcaster Chick Hearn popularized the term in his sports commentary in the 1960s.

Gig economy

A gig economy refers to jobs performed on a freelance, short-term basis. Though at times known as the "sharing economy" and "collaborative economy," the phrase is derived from the nature of the work it describes—accepting one-off assignments or jobs on an as-needed basis, such as work done by freelance musicians, writers, and today, Uber drivers. The phrase gained popularity as the freelance workforce has expanded over the past 15 years or so.


As the name suggests, a go-cup is a paper or plastic cup designed to take a drink out of a bar or restaurant. The first known use of the phrase was in 1973, especially regarding alcoholic beverages, and it is most popular in cities with lax open container laws, notably Southern U.S. cities, such as New Orleans.


Omnicide is the decimation of all human life by man-made means, such as via nuclear war. It initially came into use during the Cold War in the context of nuclear annihilation. In recent years, it has come to denote other man-caused catastrophes, especially those relating to climate change.


Meaning consistent with a specific brand or public-facing image of a business or individual, the phrase on-brand entered the English language around 2005, and gained momentum as celebrities began portraying particular identities on social media, similar to how a marketing firm might establish a product brand. Marketing expert David Ogilvy called a brand "the intangible sum of a product's attributes."

Page view

Another phrase that leaves little to the imagination, page view is the act of a person clicking on an individual web page. It first entered the English language in 1995, around the time the internet started to gain popularity. Now that page views can be tracked, the phrase has become more commonly used in digital analytics.


Similar to badminton or table tennis in some respects, pickleball refers to a game played on an even court where players use a paddle to bat a ball over a low-hanging net. Though the term first came into use in 1975, the game originated with three Washington State congressmen in the 1960s as a way to pass the time with family and friends on a summer day. Over the years, people began playing the game and making their own paddles, and in 1972, Pickle-ball Inc. was formed.


A qubit, or quantum bit, is a basic unit of information in a quantum computer, denoted by the state of an atom or elementary particle. It first came into the English language in 1995 in the acknowledgements of a paper by theoretical physicist Benjamin Schumacher. He indicated that the word was used in a joke in a conversation with physicist William Wootters about quantum data compression.

Red flag law

This law permits civilians and police officers to petition state courts to temporarily revoke access to guns for people proven to be a danger to themselves or others. Connecticut was the first to enact a red flag law in 1999 in the wake of a shooting spree at the Connecticut Lottery. Indiana passed a red flag law in 2005, followed by California in 2014, Washington in 2016, and Oregon in 2017. The 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, gave way to passage of red flags law in more states, including Florida, Vermont, New Jersey, and others.


Rhotic refers to an English dialect or language in which an R consonant is situated before other consonants, as in “heart” or “card,” and pronounced. It also refers to an R placed and pronounced at the end of a word, as in “star.” The word was  created by John C. Wells; he discusses rhoticity in the English language in his books “Accents of English,” published in 1982.

Screen time

This phrase has definitely grown since it first came on the scene in 1921. Though the primary definition of screen time is the time someone or something appears on-screen in a film or TV show, it is used in the context of the amount of time spent using a computer, playing video games, or doing any activity involving a screen. As technology has advanced, the phrase in its secondary definition started becoming more popular; Tom Engelhardt initially used it in its current iteration in a 1991 article about kids’ TV and video games.


A slang abbreviation for any kind of session, like a drinking or recording session, the word sesh was first uttered in the English language in 1940. In some definitions, it indicates a low-key hangout among friends. It was used by American and British soldiers during World War II, but gained popularity in the past four years or so due in part to an internet meme associated with another of its slang definitions, particularly in British culture—the dragging out of post-party booze and drug indulgences.


Over the years, snowflake has transformed into a disparaging term used to describe someone who is overly sensitive. The word snowflake has evolved since its early use as a slang term in the 1860s, when it meant someone against the abolition of slavery, and in the 1970s acquired a pejorative connotation as a term for a black or white person thought to be acting white. It popped up again in the 1999 film Fight Club, where it was used to mean unique. Today, it has been used a lot in politics, referring to liberal people who are easily offended by politically incorrect language.


As a noun, stan means an overly zealous or obsessive fan, but it can also be used as a verb in the same context. The word first came around in 2000, taken from the Eminem song "Stan," which describes an overly passionate fan. In 2001, Nas first used the term stan in a derogatory way in his song “Ether.” Initially, the word took on a murderous connotation, considering some dictionaries define it as a portmanteau of the words stalker and fan. Currently, stan is still used to describe an adamant fan, though it has lost a lot of its negative meaning.


In this latest context, stinger means a short scene that occurs during or after the rolling credits of a film or TV show. Stingers also go by “credit cookie” or “egg,” and other names. Though the notion has existed for decades and is thought by some to have originated in the 1963 James Bond film “To Russia With Love,” the 1979 Muppet Movie has been popularly attributed with starting the stinger craze that permeated many 1980s flicks. Some pop culture writers posit that Marvel films helped popularize the phenomenon of stingers, and with that, the term came to be used more frequently.


Swole might sound like it refers to an allergic reaction, but its new usage means having a highly muscular physique, and is used largely in bodybuilding culture. The slang version of the word first came onto the scene in 1988. Like many new words that sprang up in the past decade or so, the internet played a part in catapulting the word swole into popular use. Hip-hop music is also responsible for introducing it as a slang term; Ice-T used the word swole in his 1991 song "The Tower," and it popped up in Tupac’s 1997 song, “When I Get Free.”


In its most recent context, the pronoun “they” is a singular way to refer to someone who is gender nonbinary, i.e., someone who doesn’t identify as a man or a woman, or someone who might identify as both a man and a woman. As gender fluidity and other gender identities have come more into the mainstream, and these identities are becoming more normalized, more and more people who identify as gender nonbinary are using the pronoun “they” instead of she or he, if they so desire. The singular use of the word “they” dates to the 14th century.


In one definition, traumatology is the study of severe physical injuries that need immediate medical care. In a second definition, this “ology” refers to the study of psychological trauma in those who have undergone intense mental suffering or physical injury relating to emotional distress. The first known use of the word was in the mid-1800s. It is a relatively new field of study, at least in terms of developmental traumatology in psychology. As new trauma research started to permeate the field of psychology, noted in a paper on rape trauma in the 1970s, the word and the field of traumatology started to become more common in medicine and psychology.

Vulture capitalism

Taken from a vulture’s need to feed on dead animals, vulture capitalism is a kind of venture capitalism in which wealthy investors buy a failing company in order to sell it for a profit, and destroy jobs in the process. It also indicates so-called business people who attempt to benefit from someone else’s innovations. It is said that the phrase first came up in the context of "greed is good," from the 1987 film “Wall Street.” Vulture capitalism began to permeate mainstream language in the run-up to the 2012 election, when news organizations were reporting on Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, which had a knack for snapping up U.S. manufacturing firms, eviscerating them, and cultivating their profitable aspects.

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