50 new words added to the dictionary in the 21st Century

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October 8, 2019
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50 new words added to the dictionary in the 21st Century

The first known dictionaries in the world were the cuneiform tablets created during the Akkadian Empire. Developed around 2300 B.C., they contained bilingual Akkadian-Sumerian wordlists. The word "dictionary," however, was coined by a man known as John of Garland in 1220 A.D., almost exactly 800 years ago. In 1582, Richard Mulcaster printed "Elementarie," a list of about 10,000 English words, which were not listed in alphabetical order.

Centuries later, in the digital age, the dictionary endures. Dictionaries are embedded in word-processing and email applications and are available as mobile apps, browser extensions, standalone websites, and crowdsourced projects that anyone can edit.

When children first learn to read, they may assume that all the words have already been thought of and written down. However, language is living. Rules of grammar evolve, spellings change, and new words find their way into the dictionary every year—often in their thousands. Merriam-Webster enshrined 533 new words and modifications for the ages in September 2019 alone. As technology, pop-culture, politics, art, music, war, and life trudge onward, old words are updated and revised, and new words are introduced—and the 21st century is no different.

To catalog and revisit the words that defined the first two decades of the new millennium, Stacker used Merriam-Webster's Time Traveler tool to compile a list of 50 words that made it into the dictionary after 2000. These modern words were lifted out of obscurity, out of the realm of slang, out of the world of jargon, and placed into the mainstream among the hallowed pages of the dictionary.

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2000: Tivo

Almost exactly 20 years ago, in 1999, a new kind of device changed the way Americans watched television for generations. TiVo introduced revolutionary new features like seamless recording, pausing live TV, and fast-forwarding through commercials. The world's first DVR, TiVo, became one of the first new words of the 21st century.

2000: Google

In 1995, the fates arranged a meeting between Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Stanford University. The pair would go on to organize and catalog the collective knowledge of all humanity when they founded Google. It's a noun, a verb, and it remains, for many, the internet's starting place.

2000: Deep state

The "deep state" conspiracy theory became a dictionary term nearly two decades ago, and it was nothing new even then. Almost 20 years later, it remains the go-to boogeyman for many on the political right. Conspiracy theorists insist that an invisible network of domestic enemies called the deep state are conspiring at the highest levels of the government in cooperation with the media and powerful financiers.

2001: Bromance

In 2001, the word keepers codified a slang term relating to fraternal passion among male friends. A merger of "brother" and "romance," bromance describes a deep and intense, yet still platonic relationship between two men.

2001: Internet of Things

From light bulbs to coffee makers, billions of physical devices are connected to the internet in the modern IoT. In 2001, however, the Internet of Things was just making it into the dictionary and the public consciousness while waiting for the broadband revolution to arrive and enable IoT to reach its true potential.

2001: Auto-suggest

Sometimes it helps people sidestep embarrassing spelling mistakes, and sometimes it changes "yell" to "yodel" without user permission. It's auto-suggest or autocorrect, and it became a word as mobile texting was emerging as a new evolution in human communication.

2002: Selfie

According to the Boston Globe, the first selfie was taken in 1839 on something called a daguerreotype camera. Selfies as we now know them are a 21st-century phenomenon. The word became a made member of the English language, however, in 2002.

2002: Vlog

In January 2000, early blogger Adam Kontras attached a video to his blog. It was the first video blog or vlog, and it beat YouTube to the internet by five years. Today, Kontras' site remains the longest-running vlog in the world.

2003: Unfriend

Although it's most closely associated with the modern social media era that began with the rise of Facebook, the term "unfriend" has roots dating back to 2003. That year, someone wrote it in a Usenet post, the first known use of the word in the digital age. "Defriend" would enter the dictionary the following year.

2003: Manscaping

It's believed that people began using seashells to scrape the hair off their bodies tens of thousands of years ago. In 2003, intimate male grooming finally earned its long-awaited moment in the sun when "manscaping" made it to the big linguistic leagues.

2003: Binge-watch

The term "binge-watch" is most closely associated with modern digital media, but Netflix began its assault on video store culture back in 1997—a decade before it entered the streaming market in 2007. Between Netflix's mail-in DVDs, TiVo's DVR, and other early innovators, the concept of the marathon media session was far enough into the mainstream by 2003 that "binge-watching" made it into the dictionary.

2004: Podcast

2004 was a big year for podcasting—and not just because that's when the term made it into the dictionary. Adam Curry and Dave Winer are widely credited with creating the new audio-delivery format that same year, although that claim is sometimes disputed. What is not in dispute is that the platform put the exclusive status of radio DJ within the grasp of commoners.

2004: Paywall

Few industries were more quickly and thoroughly disrupted by the arrival of the internet than media and publishing—print subscriptions began plummeting at the turn of the 21st century. Newspapers, magazines, and other traditional media industries responded with the tried-and-true tactic of giving a little free taste upfront—usually in the form a few complimentary articles—and then soliciting a paid subscription for more. The paywall was born, and by 2004, it was officially a word.

2004: Waterboarding

Waterboarding—forcing water into the cloth-covered mouth of a restrained person to simulate drowning—is a form of torture with 500 years of history. In 1947, the United States charged and convicted a Japanese officer for waterboarding an American citizen. Waterboarding entered the national discussion after 9/11 when it was revealed that American interrogators were waterboarding suspected terrorists. The U.S. government then decided that waterboarding was not, in fact, a form of torture, but an "enhanced interrogation technique."

2005: Truther

9/11 spawned an endless stream of conspiracy theories, whose proponents are broadly categorized under the umbrella term "truthers." Fueled by early skeptic documentaries like "Loose Change," truthers believe that the narrative of hijacked planes and radical Islamic terrorists is false and that 9/11 was an inside job orchestrated at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

2005: Sexting

The arrival of the Polaroid in 1948 forever changed how partners took intimate pictures of each other, and risqué talk went digital with the arrival of texting nearly a half-century later. When phones and cameras merged into the same device, sexting hit the big time, leaving countless regretful people wishing they could somehow go back and unsend.

2006: YouTuber

When YouTube launched in 2005, it would have been hard to imagine that it would become among the most heavily trafficked sites in the history of the internet and that it would change the nature of marketing, advertising, music, entertainment, pop culture, and public advocacy. YouTube superstar millionaires didn't exist in 2006—the Fred channel became the first to achieve 1 million subscribers in 2009. However, there were YouTubers, and the people who decide which words deserve to be in the dictionary took notice.

2006: Crowdfunding

Today it seems that everyone who gets a traffic ticket or needs a root canal sets up a GoFundMe page, but in 2006, the concept of peer-to-peer donation and investment solicitation had not yet emerged as a major fundraising platform. ArtistShare was probably the first crowdfunding site when it launched in 2000, and by 2006, the concept was far enough in the mainstream that it made it into the dictionary.

2007: Hashtag

Like the @ symbol, hashtags were once obscure characters associated mostly with telephone pound signs and tic-tac-toe boards. Social media changed all that, however, and in 2007, deadly California wildfires gave rise to the first viral Twitter hashtag, and the rest is #history.

2007: Retweet

The entire Twitter platform relies on the humble but powerful retweet, which can trigger a chain reaction that can allow a single tweet to—in theory—be seen by literally everybody on Twitter. The platform launched in 2006, and on April 18, 2007, it's believed that a user named Eric Rice (@spin) first used the term "retweet," which proved so influential that it was in the dictionary that same year.

2007: Listicle

In the loosest of definitions, listicles existed long before the internet, but they weren't called that. In the digital age, however, the easy-to-digest listicle emerged as the go-to format for short-form web-based content.

2008: Photobomb

In the era of film cameras, jumping into a staged photo at the last second uninvited was an uncertain gag that rarely gave the photobomber the satisfaction of actually seeing the ruined picture. Digital cameras and then later smartphones garnered instant results, giving photobombers a chance to admire their work and the picture-taker a chance to delete and try again.

2008: Mansplain

The Atlantic admits that what might be history's greatest example of mansplaining came in the form of an essay that ran in their very publication in 1903 titled "Why Women Do Not Wish the Suffrage," which was—surprise, surprise—written by a man. Men explaining things to women in condescending terms wasn't called mansplaining then. That term came out of the feminist blogosphere in the mid-2010s.

2008: Unfollow

Unfollowing is a major diss that signals the termination of a subscription to a social feed. By 2008, Twitter was emerging as a defining social platform, and on that platform and others to follow like Instagram, people are judged by their follower count.

2009: Anti-vaxxer

Anti-vaccination movements are nearly as old as vaccines, but in 1999, leading public health and medical organizations reported a possible link between autism and a then-common compound used as a preservative in vaccines. The moment sparked a movement, and a decade later, the term "anti-vaxxer" was in the dictionary. Today is a decade beyond that, and the anti-vaxxer movement is still pursuing a crusade against mandatory vaccinations.

2009: Gig economy

It's believed that jazz musicians coined the term "gig" in 1915 to refer to a single, non-recurring, contract-based job that didn't put the contractee in the employ of the contractor. In the modern age, the so-called gig economy can loosely be traced to 1995 and the arrival of Craigslist. Today, freelancing and rideshare driving are two of the most common gigs, which the masses pursue to supplement their incomes or to break the chains of the traditional 9-to-5 labor model.

2010: Instagram

Instagram made it into the dictionary the very year it debuted. Nine years later, the platform—which everybody who's anybody is on—boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users and 500 million daily active users.

2010: Arab Spring

In early 2010, anti-government protestors openly challenged the ruling power structure in Tunisia. By the beginning of 2011, a massive popular movement for democracy, freedom, and change had swept the Arab-speaking countries of the Middle East and North Africa and sent panic through the largely totalitarian governments that ruled them. The movement was known collectively as the Arab Spring.

2011: Blockchain

Blockchain is a new kind of internet platform devised by a mysterious person or group of people known as Satoshi Nakamoto. An immutable ledger of transactions, blockchain allows digital information to be distributed without being copied. It was first devised to ensure security and secrecy for alternative currencies like Bitcoin.

2011: Earworm

For generations, people knew they had songs "stuck in their heads"—catchy tunes that burrowed into their brains and replayed on a loop throughout the day. They might not have known they were hosting an earworm until it became an official word in 2011.

2012: Selfie stick

A Minolta camera employee and avid photographer named Hiroshi Ueda invented the first selfie stick in the 1980s. Ueda soon patented his "extender stick," which he built to avoid bothering strangers to take pictures when he traveled with his family. It was not a commercial success, and his patent expired in 2003. A Canadian inventor named Wayne Fromm then re-invented the selfie-stick just in time for the camera phone and social media revolutions that would make the selfie stick big enough for a spot in the dictionary.

2012: Escape room

The original Real Escape Game debuted in Japan in 2007, and the interactive, multi-team adventure game theme soon went international. Today, there are nearly 3,000 worldwide escape games, which are often called escape rooms in the United States.

2013: Emoji

Emojis have been adding animated and adorable emphasis to thoughts and words since they first arrived on Japanese phones in the late 1990s. Today, they're standard fare in social media feeds, text messages, emails, and even dry and dull government economic data reports.

2013: Bingeable

By 2013, binging was the standard operating procedure for the consumption of TV series, provided the viewer could find the free time to watch one episode after the next—and provided there was a series worth binging. They could get a confirmation of the latter with the recommendation that a series was bingeable, one of the most considerable endorsements modern shows can receive.

2014: Manspreading

A decade after the concept of mansplaining was used to chip away at the patriarchy, a new term was developed to describe a different, more subtle form of Y-chromosome domination. Manspreading describes an intrusively wide spreading of the knees common to men when sitting on benches, subway cars, and other shared seating.

2014: Bestie

"Bestie" is a term, mostly used by girls and young women, to describe their best and most inseparable friends. When it joined the official register of words in 2014, a representative from the Oxford English Dictionary told Time magazine that it was a reflection of the growing influence of girl power on the evolution of language.

2015: Phablet

The iPhone ushered in the smartphone era in 2007, then three years later, Apple changed the game again with the arrival of the iPad. Many competing smartphones and tablets would follow, and soon, manufacturers began introducing devices that fell somewhere in between. Either tiny tablets or giant phones, phablets have screens measuring between 5 inches and 7 inches in size.

2015: Yarn bombing

The 2010s saw the rise of one of the more creative and bizarre trends in recent memory. Yarn bombing is a sort of artistic vandalism like graffiti, but far less permanent and much more labor-intensive. Everything from bike racks and sidewalk cracks to buses and military vehicles suddenly found themselves covered with elaborately knitted and brightly colored decorative labors of love.

2016: YOLO

Canadian rapper Drake is credited with popularizing the term YOLO with his song "The Motto" on his 2011 album "Take Care." It's a live-for-the-moment acronym that stands for "you only live once."

2016: Yogalates

By 2016, the wellness craze was in a full gallop, and legions of new practitioners were taking up activities like Pilates and yoga. Some people were drawn to a hybrid discipline appropriately called Yogalates.

2016: Airball

Airball is one of those words that had been in circulation for decades before it made it into the dictionary. An off-the-books word until 2016, airball has long been used to describe a basketball shot that misses its mark so thoroughly that it bypasses the backboard, rim, and net, hitting nothing but air.

2017: Throw shade

The term "throwing shade" was already part of the mainstream lexicon for a few years before the dictionary made it official in 2017. It evolved out of the antagonistic, bitter, and often toxic culture wars and personal rivalries that the masses air out in the public realm of social media. To throw shade is to register your discontent with the words or actions of another in a public forum.

2017: Ghost

Ghosting, too, was a concept for several years before the dictionary decided it had earned a place in the permanent record. To ghost someone is to briefly, and without warning or discussion, end a relationship with another person.

2017: Facepalm

The word "facepalm" represents a physical gesture that, as the word implies, involves placing the palm over the face. It's a physical expression of embarrassment, exasperation, or disbelief—and, of course, it's an emoji.

2018: Cryptocurrency

In 2018, cryptocurrency markets were experiencing a boom that was attracting legions of new investors—until it turned out to be a market bubble that soon cratered back to Earth. Cryptocurrency refers to any currency that exists in untraceable digital form, like Bitcoin.

2018: Glamping

Some people love the concept of camping but are not into the rough and tumble of the great outdoors. Glamorous camping, or glamping, was long a term that hardcore backcountry campers used to mock those who would only venture out with the benefit of modern amenities. Today, however, glampers have reclaimed the term and made glamping something to aspire to.

2018: Dumpster fire

This recently minted dictionary term doesn't involve actual flames or trash receptacles. It's a metaphor that describes a person, situation, relationship, or event that has gone so catastrophically awry that few redeeming qualities remain. The phrase can be traced to at least as far back as 2009 when sportswriter and radio host Mike Wise used the term in a newspaper column to describe a horrific loss in a football game.

2019: Free solo

In 2018, the popular documentary "Free Solo" chronicled one man's journey to scale the iconic El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park without the benefit of ropes, restraints, or any safety equipment. The extraordinarily dangerous hobby of free soloing was a niche in the rock-climbing world long before, but it didn't make it into the dictionary until 2019.

2019: Double-dip

Double-dipping was a party faux pas that could get a guest banned-for-life long before 2019, but that's when the dictionary decided it was time to enshrine the phrase. It describes the inexcusable act of dunking a chip into a publicly shared dip, biting into it, and then dipping again.

2019: Buzzy

Something that gets people talking has long been described as generating a buzz, but as is so common with the English language, the word evolved, this time mutating into an adjective. Buzzy could describe a TV show episode, a stand-up comedy special, a musician, a hot Christmas toy, or anything else that seems to be part of every conversation at the same time.

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