Just as the language never stops evolving, the dictionary never stops expanding. New terms and new uses for existing terms are the constant in a living language, and our latest list brings together both new and likely familiar words that have shown extensive and established use.
Words from Online Culture and Communication
We’ve been communicating online for decades now, and pandemic-related circumstances have only increased the practice. The quick and informal nature of messaging, texting, and tweeting has contributed to a vocabulary newly rich in efficient and abbreviated expression.
- TBH : an abbreviation for “to be honest.” TBH is frequently used in social media and text messaging.
- because : by reason of : because of — often used in a humorous way to convey vagueness about the exact reasons for something. This preposition use of because is versatile; it can be used, for example, to avoid delving into the overly technical (“the process works because science”) or to dismiss explanation altogether (“they left because reasons”).
- amirite : slang used in writing for “am I right” to represent or imitate the use of this phrase as a tag question in informal speech. An example: “English spelling is consistently inconsistent, amirite?”
- FTW : an abbreviation for “for the win” —used especially to express approval or support. In social media, FTW is often used to acknowledge a clever or funny response to a question or meme.
- deplatform : to remove and ban (a registered user) from a mass communication medium (such as a social networking or blogging website) broadly : to prevent from having or providing a platform to communicate.
- digital nomad : someone who performs their occupation entirely over the Internet while traveling; especially : such a person who has no permanent fixed home address.
More Coronavirus Words
As we all know, the pandemic story isn’t over, and neither is the need for more vocabulary to describe the policy and research developments connected to COVID-19.
- breakthrough medical : infection occurring in someone who is fully vaccinated against an infectious agent — often used before another noun (as in “breakthrough cases” or “breakthrough infection”).
- super-spreader : an event or location at which a significant number of people contract the same communicable disease — often used before another noun (as in a “super-spreader event”). The term super-spreader originally referred to a highly contagious person capable of passing on a disease to many others, and now can also refer to a single place or occasion where many others are infected.
- long COVID : a condition that is marked by the presence of symptoms (such as fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, headache, or brain fog) which persist for an extended period of time (such as weeks or months) following a person’s initial recovery from COVID-19 infection.
- vaccine passport : a physical or digital document providing proof of vaccination against one or more infectious diseases (such as COVID-19).
Words from Tech and Science
We have arrived at the stage in digital technology when we require words for the decay of files, opportunistic attacks on computer programs, super shortcuts, and massive quantities of data storage. The promised ubiquitous jetpacks have yet to arrive, but at least we do have small private satellites and shapeshifting puddles named by Dr. Seuss.
- bit rot : the tendency for digital information to degrade or become unusable over time. This kind of data degradation or corruption can make images and audio recordings distort and documents impossible to read or open.
- zero-day : of, relating to, or being a vulnerability (as in a computer or computer system) that is discovered and exploited (as by cybercriminals) before it is known to or addressed by the maker or vendor.
- copypasta : data (such as a block of text) that has been copied and spread widely online. Copypasta can be a lighthearted meme or it can have a more serious intent, with a political or cultural message.
- teraflop : a unit of measure for the calculating speed of a computer equal to one trillion. The flop in teraflop stands for “floating-point operation”; tera- means “trillion.” Fast computer speed makes for quicker computer response and better graphics for video games.
- CubeSat : an artificial satellite typically designed with inexpensive components that fit into a cube with a volume of 1 cubic meter. These small satellites are typically used for academic, commercial, or amateur research projects in orbit.
- Oobleck : a mixture of corn starch and water that behaves like a liquid when at rest and like a solid when pressure is applied. Oobleck gets its name from the title of a story by Dr. Seuss, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and is a favorite component in kids’ science experiments.
Words from Politics
The words connected with how we advocate for political positions and engage with opponents tell us much about the state of partisan politics today. Terms of blame and deception are notable in this batch of terminology.
- whataboutism : the act or practice of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse also : the response itself. The synonymous term whataboutery is more common in British English.
- vote-a-rama U.S. government : an unusually large number of debates and votes that happen in one day on a single piece of legislation to which an unlimited number of amendments can be introduced, debated, and voted on.
- astroturf : falsely made to appear grassroots. This figurative use of astroturf (in capitalized form it is a trademark for artificial turf) is used to describe political efforts, campaigns, or organizations that appear to be funded and run by ordinary people but are in fact backed by powerful groups.
Words About Food
Many new food terms come from the cuisines of cultures that speak a language other than English, but this batch also features a venerable and all-American regionalism, along with new ways of cooking and organizing food preparation.
- fluffernutter : a sandwich made with peanut butter and marshmallow crème between two slices of white sandwich bread.
- horchata : a cold sweetened beverage made from ground rice or almonds and usually flavorings such as cinnamon or vanilla.
- chicharron : a small piece of pork belly or pig skin that is fried and eaten usually as a snack : pork rind also : a piece of food that resembles a chicharron.
- Goetta : meat (such as pork) mixed with oats, onions, and spices and fried in the form of a patty.
- air fryer : an airtight, usually small electrical appliance for quick cooking of foods by means of convection currents circulated rapidly by a fan.
- ghost kitchen : a commercial cooking facility used for the preparation of food consumed off the premises — called also cloud kitchen, dark kitchen.
Words from the World of Medicine
- fourth trimester : the three month period immediately following giving birth in which the mother typically recovers from childbirth and adjusts to caring for her infant; especially : the first three months of an infant’s life.
- halotherapy : the therapeutic use of salt usually by inhalation of an aerosol composed chiefly of fine salt particles and circulated in an enclosed area. Halotherapy is used as a treatment for asthma, bronchitis, and allergies.
- titer : a measure of the concentration of a substance (such as an antibody) in a blood sample that is obtained by subjecting the sample to serial dilutions (as with saline) to determine the maximum dilution at which the sample retains a specific activity (such as neutralizing an antigen) and that is often expressed as a ratio (such as 1:200).
Words from Pop Culture
Fan culture, enduring slang terms, and fashions that may come and go while leaving terms that live on in references: these are just some of the ways that words that aren’t used in news coverage or scientific journals make their way into the dictionary.
- otaku : a person having an intense or obsessive interest especially in the fields of anime and manga —often used before another noun.
- faux-hawk : a hairstyle resembling a Mohawk in having a central ridge of upright hair but with the sides gathered or slicked upward or back instead of shaved.
- dad bod informal : a physique regarded as typical of an average father; especially : one that is slightly overweight and not extremely muscular.
Other Notable Terms
From business to sports to home security.
- blank check company : a corporate shell set up by investors for the sole purpose of raising money through an initial public offering to acquire another business yet to be determined — called also special purpose acquisition company.
- doorbell camera : a small camera that is designed for use on an exterior door, that includes or connects to a doorbell, and that often has a built-in microphone and speaker.
- small ball 1a baseball : an offensive strategy that involves at bats that advance one or more base runners into scoring position; b basketball : a game strategy based on speed and agility of players as opposed to height and physicality; 2 : a strategy for progressing towards a goal by proceeding in small steps or by addressing small matters.
More on How a Word Gets Into the Dictionary, plus an Infographic
For the previous batch of new words, check out our January 2021 additions.