If you managed to get through 2013 without “twerking,” “vaping,” “taking a selfie” or “mining a bitcoin,” rest easy. I think your life may be the richer for it.
But if you didn’t even hear any of those words, maybe you should get out more. According to the researchers who keep track of word usage for dictionaries, you would have missed out on the same sort of timely chatter that made 2012 a big year for “sexting,” “man cave,” “Frankenstorm,” “cloud computing” and “bucket list.”
Some words in each year are new. Others are old but find new life in new times. Among the most-used words in 2013, prominent themes include money, narcissism, entitlement, self-delusion and overflowing waste. As a social critic, I am grateful to find so much sustenance for my inner grump.
Affluenza: A theoretical term in psychology for what most people call “a spoiled kid.” Lawyers cited affluenza in 2013 to defend a wealthy 16-year-old Texas kid who killed four people and paralyzed one while driving drunk. The judge apparently bought it. He sentenced the kid to 10 years’ probation, no prison, just therapy at a lush California rehab clinic, paid for by his parents. Meanwhile, thousands of nonviolent offenders cool their heels in prison, paid for by the taxpayer. Judges like this one give “affluenza” a bad name.
Bitcoin. A unit of alleged digital “money” that offers everything that paper currency offers, except stability, reliability or transparency. Now you see it … No, you don’t.
It’s not clear who’s behind bitcoin, but its biggest users appear to be international gangsters and the Wall Street geniuses who gave us “derivatives” and the 2008 crash. Hey, what possibly could go wrong?
Fatberg. No, it is not a new nickname dreamed up by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy’s rivals. It is British slang for the yucky lumps of congealed cooking fat, wet wipes, baby nappies and other debris that clog London’s sewers. Fatberg bounced around the globe in August when a record-sized 15-ton ball of the stuff had to be dislodged with shovels and water jets. As Donald Trump might say, fatberg is “gonna be hu-u-uge!”
Lean In: It’s not just good advice to near-sighted desktop computer programmers anymore. As a recent episode of the FX sitcom “The League” put it, “lean in” is “the white collar version of ‘Git-R-Done,’” Larry the Cable Guy’s famous slogan.
“Lean In” became a clarion call to upwardly ambitious professional women after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller by that title. A decade after rapper Fat Joe’s 2004 hit “Lean Back,” it’s time to change direction.
Selfie. Oxford Dictionaries’ international Word of the Year, beating out “twerk” and “binge-watch.” Its usage this year received a boost from Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s celebrated selfie with President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the memorial for Nelson Mandela.
The captured moment set tongues to wagging on this side of the Big Pond, mostly along the usual partisan lines. Free of its context and unfettered by actual reporting, a picture is worth 10,000 speculations.
Twerk: A booty-shaking dance move of uncertain origin that evolved through hip-hop culture. It erupted into the mainstream when Miley Cyrus alarmed parents by backin-that-thang-up on Robin Thicke during MTV’s video awards show. Purists sniffed that Cyrus is to fine art of the twerk what Pat Boone was to rhythm-and-blues or, for you youngsters, what Sen. Ted Cruz brought to “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Vape. A chic new verb for the act of sucking on electronic cigarettes, which deliver vaporized nicotine instead of tobacco smoke. Intended to wean smokers off of their expensive cigarette habits, it offers an expensive nicotine habit.
Young Invincibles. Young adults aged 18 to 34 upon whom the Affordable Care Act relies to help pick up the cost of the health insurance program. Trouble is, young people are the least likely to comprehend why they will ever, ever need it, even as they face looming threats of fatbergs, affluenza, a bitcoin crash and — watch for it — scientific studies on the dangers of secondary vaping.
Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.