Skip to main content

Main Area


30 new words added to the dictionary in 2019

  • 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.

    You may also like: Slang words from the year you were born

  • Aphantasia

    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

    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.

  • Buzzy

    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.

  • Colorism

    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.

  • Coulrophobia

    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.

2018 All rights reserved.