This list serves as a shorthand of our preoccupations for the year 2013. It’s a cross-section of words across all public arenas, flavored with the zeitgeist, powered by emotions and spread through innate usefulness. Pop culture, science, finance, the arts, politics, Internet culture, and more. Beautiful or ugly, they’re words that are cultural indicators more than they are pageant winners. (An abbreviated version of this list will appear in the New York Times December 21-22.)
ag-gag law n. Legislation that restricts the use of undercover video in places where food animals are raised or slaughtered. Animal rights advocates say these laws can make it difficult to document animal abuse. From agriculture + gag law.
air gap n. The space surrounding a computing device that is disconnected from all networks, which can protect it from digital attacks. A security researcher claims to have discovered malware that defeats the air gap by transmitting data encoded in high frequency sounds out of computer speakers and into the microphones of other nearby computers.
bae n. Spelling representation of a dialect pronunciation of babe or baby. The catchphrase “bae caught me slippin‘” (meaning, “My baby caught me sleeping”) came into vogue as a caption to photographs obviously taken by a person pretending to be asleep, a kind of incompetent narcissistic guile which may capture the spirit of our age.
Batkid n. Miles Scott, a five-year-old boy with leukemia who through the Make-a-Wish Foundation was able to play-act as his favorite hero, Batman, for a day. Thousands of people in San Francisco, including the mayor and sports celebrities, took part in a citywide role-play as Batkid saved the city from the Penguin and the Riddler.
bitcoin or Bitcoin n. An anonymous, decentralized, digital, encrypted currency and payment system.
Boston Strong n. A catchphrase and slogan used to show solidarity after a bombing during the Boston Marathon on April 15th.
catfish v. To impersonate someone or misrepresent oneself online, especially to pretend to have a relationship as part of a hoax or a scam. From the 2010 documentary Catfish, in which a married woman in her 40s pretends to be younger and single while online.
cis adj. Matching or identifying with the gender or identity that one was born to. Short for cisgender, an antonym of transgender. Pronounced as /siss/.
cronut n. A wonderful pastry that is part croissant, part doughnut, and part hype.
deep state or Deep State n. A hard-to-perceive level of government or super-control that exists regardless of elections, and which may thwart popular movements or radical change. Some have said that Egypt is being manipulated by its deep state.
doge n. An intentional misspelling of dog. It’s part of a popular Internet meme featuring pictures of Shiba Inu dogs surrounded by not-quite-grammatical Comic Sans captions.
dox v. To uncover and then publish someone’s personal information. An abbreviation of document. Sometimes spelled doxx.
drone n. An unmanned flying machine, either autonomous or remotely piloted, used for things like surveillance, military sorties, and delivery. As a verb, to send a drone to a location, especially to bomb it. “We droned most of the key militant leaders.”
fatberg n. A 15-ton ball of fat, grease, and solid sewage found in London sewers. In the UK Guardian, a spokesperson called a fatberg “a heaving, sick-smelling, rotting mass of filth and feces.”
feels n.pl. Feelings. Originated online, thrived as a meme in 2012, and now in 2013 shows signs of moving into more widespread English slang. It’s typically used in response to a moving story: “That got me right in the feels, bro.”
glasshole n. A person who wears Google Glass, a head-mounted computer, and tends to ignore what is happening around them.
Harlem Shake n. A song by the musician Baauer which has been used in many parody videos. In each, a helmeted or masked person dances alone while being ignored by others. Then, after a musical drop, the scene changes and is filled with lots of outlandish dancing.
ITAP An acronym for “I took a picture.”
krokodil n. A Russian morphine-derived drug, desomorphine, that is said to cause horrible disfigurement.
lean in v. A business philosophy intended to lead women to success in the workplace. From the title of a 2013 book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
molly n. A supposedly pure form of the illegal drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy. The term is at least ten years old.
no filter A label for photograph that have not been adjusted by software. Often used as a hashtag: #nofilter.
Obamacare. n. The Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010. Since 2007, the word has been both wielded like a bludgeon and held up like a trophy, and has gone from a sneered pejorative to a matter-of-fact shorthand used by all but the stiffest of bureaucrats.
resting bitch face, bitchy resting face, bitch face n. A face that, when at rest, looks angry, irritated, or aggressive. Dating back at least ten years as a described concept but popularized in 2013 by a video made by the group Broken People.
selfie n. A photo a person takes of oneself.
sequestration n. Automatic, mandated cuts to the Federal budget. Also v., sequester.
shark week n. Days when menstruation occurs. After the notion of “blood in the water” and Shark Week, a week-long showing of programs about sharks on the Discovery Channel.
Sharknado n. A B-movie featuring sharks being hurled about by a tornado.
sorry, not sorry adj. phr. A way of apologizing without apologizing, usually used as an interjection or an aside.
twerk v. A mode of dance that involves vigorous booty-shaking and booty-thrusting, usually with the feet planted. Although the term is about 20 years old, it received new attention when singer Miley Cyrus performed a twerk-like routine on-stage at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The word’s origin is uncertain, but may come from chanted repetitions of “work it, work it.”
vape v. To smoke electronic cigarettes, which use moisture to deliver nicotine without tobacco. Vape lounges are places where e-cigarette supplies can be bought and used.
vax n. A vaccine. Also anti-vaxxer, a person who believes that vaccinations are harmful.
young invincibles n. People between ages 18 and 34 years old who are typically in good health and may not see the need to sign up for health insurance. This group is needed to be a part of the healthcare system, however, in order to spread the cost of providing affordable insurance.
Grant Barrett is a lexicographer specializing in slang and new words and co-host of the public radio program A Way with Words, http://waywordradio.org.
Photo by Angelo DeSantis . Used under a Creative Commons license.