In the years 2006 to the present, North Korea tests a nuclear weapon; Apple releases the iPhone; the U. S. housing market collapses, taking the world economy with it; Bill Gates steps down from the chairmanship of Microsoft; Barack Obama is elected the first African-American president of the United States; Somali pirates terrorize the Indian Ocean shipping lanes; the Large Hadron Collider begins operations at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland; protests spring up throughout the Arab world, toppling governments from Tunisia to Egypt; the U. S. military kills Osama bin Laden; and Queen Elizabeth marks her sixtieth year on the throne.
The words of 2006:
auto-tune, v. By 2009, The Auto-Tune pitch correction software had been out for over a decade, famously used to produce voice effects in Cher’s 1998 song Believe. But the use of the software had become so ubiquitous by that year that the verb to auto-tune appeared.
belieber, n. Justin Beiber fans got their own nickname in 2009.
birther, n. Modeled after truther, the birthers are those who question whether Barack Obama was born in the United States. The term makes its debut in late 2008.
bi-winning, n. No discussion of words of 2011 would be complete without at least one of actor Charlie Sheen’s coinages during his media meltdown that year. This one is a blend of bipolar + winning, and refers to his claimed use of the disorder to gain an advantage.
bodysnarking, n. (also bodysnark, v.) Bodysnarking is a 2008 word for criticism of someone’s, especially a woman’s, appearance.
bragabond, n. A creative 2006 coinage referring to someone who boasts about their travel experiences.
brokeback, adj. The film Brokeback Mountain premiered in 2005, and by 2006 brokeback was being used as an adjective meaning “gay.”
brony, n. This 2010 blend of brother + pony refers to an adult male fan of the animated TV series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
bubbling, n. (also bubble porn, n. and Mormon porn, n.) is a photo manipulation effect that debuted in 2010 using strategically placed circles to make pictures of scantily clad people appear as if they were naked.
bunga-bunga, adj. In 2010 Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described one of his infamous, wild parties as bunga-bunga, referring to all the sex that went on. The name caught on in several languages.
copypasta, n. This internet slang term for plagiarized text pops up in 2006. It’s formed from the copy and paste computer commands and is also influenced by pasta.
culturomics, n. We don’t often see academic slang make the mainstream, but 2010 saw the debut of culturomics, or the analysis of social and cultural trends through the use of large corpora of texts like Google Books. The word is patterned after genomics.
death panel, n. In 2009, former U. S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin expressed an irrational fear of death panels, or bodies of government bureaucrats that would force involuntary euthanasia on the chronically ill if health care reform in the United States were implemented.
deather, n. The decade saw two different types of deathers, both words modeled after truther and birther. The first, appearing in 2009 referred to those who believed Palin’s ravings regarding death panels. The second, appearing in 2011, referred to those who doubted the official story about the death of Osama bin-Laden.
fail, n. Way back in the fourteenth century, fail began to be used as a noun meaning “failure.” But this sense died out in the seventeenth century. Then in the mid twentieth century, the noun fail began to be used in academic circles to mean a classification of grade, as in pass-fail. But a new sense arose in 2008 with epic fail. On the internet and in the real world, any embarrassing failure began to be labeled as an epic fail, or simply as a fail. For example, in a September 2008 in the midst of the financial collapse, a protestor at a U. S. Senate hearing held up a sign reading, “fail,” behind Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
foot tapper, n. (also toe tapper, n.) In 2007 U. S. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested for soliciting sex in a men’s room in the Minneapolis airport, giving rise to a number of slang terms referring to sex in public washrooms. One was foot tapper, referring to man who signals a desire for sex with the man in the next stall by tapping his foot. The gerund foot tapping for this practice dates back to 1967.
gauge up, v. This one is from the world of body piercing. To gauge up is to increase the diameter of a piercing, from the sense of gauge referring to the diameter of a needle or wire.
hike the Appalachian Trail, c.phr. Another term from a political sex scandal. This catchphrase, meaning “to have a tryst with one’s mistress,” was briefly popular in 2009 after South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford used it as an excuse to explain his whereabouts when he had actually been visiting Argentina with his mistress.
hopey-changey, adj. Modeled after touchy-feely, in 2008 hopey-changey became a derisive way to refer to the themes of hope and change in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
humblebrag, n. This wonderful term for a boast coached in a context of false humility appeared in 2009. An example of a humblebrag would be a woman saying, “these size two jeans are too baggy.”
junk shot, n. The 2010 oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon platform spawned a number of jargon terms for the various efforts to halt the flow of oil. One of these was junk shot.
kinetic event, n. This one is military slang for a violent occurrence, from the kinetic energy of a bullet or other projectile. Kinetic event dates to 2008 in newspaper accounts, but its use is probably older among soldiers.
Kosher phone, n. High-tech meets biblical tradition. The rise of smartphones posed a dilemma for rabbinical authorities. Their congregations needed the ability to use a mobile phone, but could not be allowed access to the internet or other mass media until such features had been deactivated.
locavore, n. The decade of the 2000s saw the rise of the local food movement, which advocated raising agricultural products near to where they would be consumed. Hence, by 2006 the term locavore appeared, referring to a person who eats only locally produced food.
LOLcat, n. Pictures of cats with humorous captions have been around almost as long as photography itself, but the LOLcat phenomenon dates to the 2007 launch of the website icanhascheezburger.com, which features pictures of cats, and other animals but mostly cats, with humorous captions using an idiosyncratic spelling and syntax supposedly representing cat speech. LOLcat is a compound of the internet acronym LOL “laughing out loud” + cat.
macaca, n. From the Portuguese macaco and related to macaque, U. S. Senator George Allen of Virginia used the word in reference to a man of South Asian descent in his 2006 campaign for reelection. Allen subsequently claimed that he didn’t know what the word meant (it is not generally used in English, but is a racial slur in the languages where it is used) and had intended to refer to the man’s haircut, a mullet (which Allen misidentified as a mohawk). Allen lost his bid for reelection and torpedoed his own hopes of running for president in 2008.
make it rain, v. Making it rain is a hip-hop display of wealth, in which a rap star or other big spender hurls paper money into the air at a club, allowing it to fall among the other patrons. The verb phrase starts appearing in 2006.
moof, n. (also moofer, n.) An acronym for mobile out of office and coined by Microsoft in 2007, the growth of mobile devices and wireless networks allowed enough workers freedom from working in their offices that a silly acronym was warranted.
mooner, n. Along with birthers and deathers, there are mooners, those who believe the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. While mooners have been around since the 1960s, the term wasn’t coined until 2008.
occupy, v. The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 inspired this verb. Of course, the verb to occupy has long been associated with protests, with student radicals occupying university administration buildings in the 1960s, but in 2011 the word acquired the specific meaning of the protest movement centered on income inequality.
people’s microphone, n. This technique, used by the Occupy movement in 2011, is a means of amplifying speech. Since New York City requires a permit to use amplification devices in public spaces, members of the Occupy movement would repeat a speaker’s words, line by line, so all could hear.
planking, n. The Occupy movement was not the only movement in the news in 2001. Planking, the practice of lying face down in some unusual place, having it photographed, and then posting the picture to the internet, was also sweeping the world that year.
public option, n. There have been lots of public options of various sorts over the years, but in 2007 the phrase specifically came to denote a U. S. government-run health insurance plan that would compete with the private sector.
rickroll, n. and v. A rickroll is a prank in which a disguised internet link leads one to Rick Astley’s 1987 music video Never Gonna Give You Up. The prank started in 2007 and continues to be seen to this day.
teabagger, n. The political sense of the term arose in 2009 as a self-description by conservative members of the tea party movement, calling themselves such based on the practice, in place since at least 2001, of sending tea bags to legislators who raised taxes. But they did not realize that teabagging was also a slang term for a form of oral sex. Critics of the movement seized on this and began using teabagger derisively.
tea partier, n. References linking tea and tax protests go back to the original 1773 Boston Tea Party, but the term tea partier as a name for one who protests modern-day taxes goes back only to 1989, although the formal tea party movement did not arise until 2009.
tebowing, n. This 2011 term for a public demonstration of prayer comes from the practice of Denver Broncos (now New York Jets) quarterback Tim Tebow of kneeling on one knee with his elbow on the other knee.
tiger mother, n. A tiger mother is a strict parent, especially one of Asian descent, who insists on achievement on the part of her children. The term comes from Amy Chua’s 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
trend, v. The verb to trend has been used since the sixteenth century to mean “to travel in a certain direction,” but in 2009 it started to be used in the sense of exhibiting increasing interest, especially online interest, to become trendy or hot.
truther, n. A truther is a conspiracy theorist who believes that the generally accepted explanation for an event, especially the 9/11 terrorist attacks, masks what actually happened. The term dates to 2006 and is the inspiration for such terms as birther and deather.
tweet, n. (and tweet, v.) The internet messaging service Twitter launched in 2006, and by 2007 tweet had become established as the noun for a message sent via Twitter. By 2008 the verb was in use.
vegansexual, n. Vegansexual is a 2007 term for a person who not only refuses to consume products derived from animals, but who also abstains from sex with anyone else who does use animal products.
wikileak, v. Most famous for publishing a series of classified U. S. diplomatic cables in 2011, the WikiLeaks organization was formed in 2006, and the verb to wikileak was in use by 2007.
YouTube, v. Yet another internet service that has been verbed. YouTube was founded in 2005, and by the next year the verb to YouTube was in place, meaning to publish a video via the web service.
These words are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, based on that dictionary’s earliest citation for that word. I’ve also taken words from the Among the New Words column in the journal American Speech; and in many cases these words have been antedated by the OED. Of course, that does not necessarily mean the word was coined in the given year; it only means that is the earliest date the big dictionary has for the word. In many cases, these words can and have been antedated. My selection is not scientific or systematic; it is based on what I think is interesting; sometimes they are words that appear earlier or later than I would have thought; others have a particular historical affiliation for that year or represent some historical trend; and others are just odd words. I’m avoiding back-formations and variations on existing words. Again, be warned that the coining of a word does not necessarily coincide with the invention of a concept. Often, there will be older words that express the same sense.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton