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In 2013, New Experiences Called for New Words

January 3, 2014

Often tied to passing trends or breaking news, new words that caught our fancy in 2013 helped us label social phenomena and experiences, according to The Wall Street Journal. In pop culture, “twerk” — a term for a sexually suggestive dance that reportedly was coined 20 years ago in New Orleans — came into wide use this year after Miley Cyrus’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in August. You might say we were temporarily caught in a “twerknado,” the suffix a reference to social media fascination with “Sharknado,” a 2013 cable-TV movie about tornadoes filled with sharks.

Neologisms, new words or new meanings for established words, are often what the author Lewis Carroll called a “portmanteau word,” or a newly coined term that combines the forms and meanings of two existing words. Others this year included “cronut,” for a cross between a croissant and donut, and “Thanksgivukkah” for the rare confluence on the calendar of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. When cicadas began swarming in the Northeast in the late spring, some warned of a looming “cicadapocalypse.”

“Selfie,” the slang term for a cellphone self-portrait that reportedly originated more than a decade ago in Australia, became the Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year” in 2013. As a term and a possible glimpse of the future, “bitcoin,” the virtual money introduced in 2008, gained currency this year. And thanks to a book and mantra from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, “lean in” came to connote female empowerment. — Greg Beaubien


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