Every year, Oxford Dictionaries selects a word of the year. For 2014, this is “vape”, derived from vapor or vaporize, meaning to inhale or exhale vapor from e-cigarettes. Due to the emerging popularity of e-cigarettes over the past couple of years, it’s no surprise that the word has been widely used in the English language.
The word was first coined in 1983, when entrepreneurs were looking for an alternative to tobacco smoke, which was becoming increasingly unacceptable in social circles. However, it didn’t really take off until the beginning of 2013, when e-cigarettes became widely available.
The Oxford Dictionaries, which has a sophisticated monitoring system to track the usage of words in English worldwide, documented this. In January 2013, the word was used less than 100 times per billion words of English. However, by April of 2014, vape was used 1200 times per billion words.
Another reason vape, and its derivative vaping, saw widespread usage was due to the controversy surrounding e-cigarettes. Print and electronic media spawned innumerable articles supporting, discussing, or opposing them.
The Oxford Dictionaries choice is not without controversy itself. Because e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, the United States’ Federal Drug Administration feels they are no different than traditional cigarettes. By choosing vape as the word of the year, the Oxford Dictionaries has been criticized for giving prominence to a word that means the inhalation of nicotine (although the e-cigarettes release steam, not nicotine smoke). However, unlike the United States, England has embraced e-cigarettes, with vape cafes in public. Since e-cigarettes are not so condemned in England, it’s unsurprising that the British-based Oxford Dictionaries was not too concerned about it.
Although vape was the word that was chosen, there are some very interesting terms that were runners-up.
Not surprisingly to citizens of the British Commonwealth, the term “indyref” was used nearly as much as the winner. While this term may be unfamiliar to some Americans, it meant a great deal to those living in Great Britain. Indyref is short for “independence referendum”, referring specifically to the September 18, 2014 vote in Scotland on the question of whether Scotland would become independent from Great Britain. The referendum ultimately failed, but for months it was headline news throughout the Great Britain and the former British territories like Canada and Australia.
Another word that caught fire in the English-speaking world was “budtender”. This word refers to a person that serves customers in a legal cannabis dispensary. Given the multiple state referendums on legalizing marijuana in the United States in the 2014 political year, and the press coverage of all the unintended consequences of legalized marijuana in the American state of Colorado, it is not shocking that this clever play on the word “bartender” gain widespread usage.
Youth and the artistic community are often the sources for generating new words. One word that exploded out of nowhere in 2014 is “bae”, which refers to a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner, similar to the words “dear” or “honey” used in older generations. The word really took off when recording artist Pharrell released a single called “Come Get It Bae”. No one’s sure where the word came from, but theories range from it being a shortened form of “babe” to an acronym for “before anyone else”.
Typically, the word of the year and its runners-up spontaneously explode onto the scene as a result of current events or modern culture. However, one of the runners-up, “normcore”, followed a different path. The term normcore refers to deliberately dressing in unfashionable clothing as a fashion statement.
A common normcore outfit is white sneakers, baggy jeans, oversize sweatshirt, and crooked baseball cap. However, as with many new terms, its exact meaning hasn’t been fixed. It can also reflect a desire to be normal, and that can be accomplished by wearing everyday clothes.
What made normcore different is that it started out as a hashtag by a trend-casting group in New York City. It spread like wildfire through Twitter and social media, which brought its usage to the attention of the Oxford Dictionaries.
Whether your favorite new word is the winner or one of its runners-up, they all illustrate that English is a living language, growing and adapting to our ever-changing society.