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Here Is Every “Word of the Year” Since 2000

To qualify as a potential “word of the year,” terms must be newly popular, widely used, and reflective of regular discourse. Here’s a look at the winners.

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How “word of the year” winners influence pop culture

Since its founding in 1889, the American Dialect Association has been relentlessly dedicated to the study of the English language. In addition to publishing a quarterly journal, contributing a yearly monograph book, and hosting conferences, the ADA is arguably most famous for selecting the annual “Word of the Year.” It’s always exciting to see which vernacular term has received the ADA dictionary honor, from 1994’s “cyber” to “soccer mom” in 1996. To qualify as a potential “Word of the Year,” nominated terms must be newly popular, widely used, and reflective of regular discourse. In many ways, a “Word of the Year” will encapsulate the latest cultural obsession or political milestone, making them significant snapshots of modern history.

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2000: Chad (noun)

Definition: A small scrap of paper punched from a voting card. Chad became notorious during the 2000 Presidential election, when Florida punch-card voting machines failed to register thousands of votes where chads were not completely punched out, resulting in “hanging chads” (chads attached to the ballot by at least one corner) and “fat chads” or “pregnant chads” (chads that showed signs of perforation, but did not fall loose from the ballot). Here are 23 words that don’t mean what you think they do.

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2001: 9-11 (noun)

The numbers 9-11 quickly became a catchall for describing the terrorist attacks carried out across America on September 11, 2001. Online usage of the word spikes every September, but especially in September 2006 and 2011, the five- and ten-year anniversaries of the tragedy, respectively.

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2002: Weapons of mass destruction or WMD (noun)

Originally used to describe the aerial bombing of Guernica in 1937, “weapons of mass destruction” took on a second meaning as “nuclear weapon” during the Cold War era, and then saw resurgence in usage following the 9-11 attacks. So-called WMDs were sought after in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but never found. That same year, Lake Superior State University added “WMD” to a list of terms banished for “Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.”

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2003: Metrosexual (adjective or noun)

A combination of the words metropolitan and sexual, a metrosexual is a fashion-conscious heterosexual male very conscious of personal grooming and style. The term owes some of its popularity to the changing ideas of masculinity depicted in TV shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, first aired in July 2003. Here are 10 almost-extinct words you should start using right away.

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2004: Red/blue/purple states (noun)

Color-coded shorthand for a state’s political leanings, red states favoring conservative Republicans, blue states favoring liberal Democrats, and purple states undecided on the political map of the United States. The color-code system rose to popularity during TV coverage of the 2000 Presidential election, and was embraced full-force during the next election in 2004.

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2005: Truthiness (noun)

What one wishes to be true, regardless of the facts. This word was invented by TV personality Stephen Colbert minutes before the debut of his show, The Colbert Report, to describe a political culture where leaders’ passionate opinions seemed to matter more than concrete facts.

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2006: Plutoed (verb)

To be demoted or devalued. The word shot to popularity after the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto no longer met the definition of a planet, demoting it to an “ice dwarf.” These are the 10 common words you’ll only find in English.

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2007: Subprime (adjective)

An adjective used to describe a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage, or investment. The phrase achieved mass popularity in 2007 when multiple subprime loans packaged into mortgage-backed securities defaulted, contributing to the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

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2008: Bailout (noun)

The rescue by the government of companies on the brink of failure, including large players in the banking industry. The government attempted to mitigate the 2007-2008 crash through bailouts, giving select banks and companies massive financial support.

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2009: Tweet (noun or verb)

A short message sent via the Twitter.com service, or the act of sending such a message (“to tweet”). The 140-character messaging service blasted to popularity in 2009, jumping from about 5 million users to more than 20 million between January and June 2009.

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2010: App (noun)

An abbreviation for “application” program for a computer or phone operating system. As in, “there’s an app for that,” a ubiquitous advertising slogan for the iPhone several years ago. Here are 10 amazing words we no longer use, but should!

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2011: Occupy (verb, noun, and combining form)

Referring to the Occupy protest movement, most notably Occupy Wall Street. “It’s a very old word, but over the course of just a few months it took on another life and moved in new and unexpected directions, thanks to a national and global movement,” language columnist Ben Zimmer said. “The movement itself was powered by the word.”

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2012: #hashtag (noun)

A word or phrase preceded by a hash symbol (#), used on social media to mark a topic or make a commentary. Most memorable hashtag of 2012: #YOLO.

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2013: Because (conjunction)

“This past year, the very old word because exploded with new grammatical possibilities in informal online use,” Zimmer said. “No longer does because have to be followed by of or a full clause. Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, because should be Word of the Year ‘because useful!’” These 6 romantic words have no English equivalent.

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2014: #Blacklivesmatter (hashtag)

Hashtag used as protest over blacks killed at the hands of police (esp. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island). This movement still resonates powerfully in 2016, and will likely continue for years to come.

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2015: Singular They (pronoun)

Gender-neutral pronoun, especially used to describe non-binary gender identities, rejecting he and she. In 2015, singular they entered into the Washington Post style guide. Post copy editor Bill Walsh called it “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

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2016: Dumpster fire

Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, says this term is metaphorically equivalent to, “a train wreck.” Dumpster fire became popular in the context of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

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2017: Fake news

Fake news was in the running for the 2016 word of the year, but it took on another meaning over the course of 2017 thanks in large part due to its repeated use by President Donald Trump. “Trump’s version of fake news became a catchphrase among the president’s supporters, seeking to expose biases in mainstream media,” Zimmer says. Next, check out these 10 words that mean very different things in England and America.

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