When you don’t know the meaning of a word, the first stop should be “look it up in the dictionary.” But what about words and definitions that are so new they aren’t in the dictionary yet? While we used to have to wait years, perhaps even decades, for new entries to appear in print, the internet gives lexicographers and dictionary publishers a chance to keep up with newly coined words and their meanings.
In January 2021, Merriam-Webster added 520 new words, then another 455 new words in October 2021 to its compendium. From coronavirus buzzwords and political jargon to racial justice terms and the latest internet slang, here are some terms that earned a new entry in the dictionary.
This abbreviation stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. It often replaces POC or “people of color.” Since it’s an acronym (not an initialism), the term is typically pronounced as one word — “by-pock” — not as individual letters.
Picking up on a body positivity trend that’s been online for several years now, Merriam-Webster defines a “dad bod” as “one that is slightly overweight and not extremely muscular.” Cargo shorts, New Balance sneakers, and a scruffy stubble are frequently depicted accessories for those rocking a so-called dad bod.
While everyone seems to have an account on several social media networks, breaking the rules can get you “deplatformed.” In other words, kicked off the platform, be it Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or others. While it was added to the dictionary in 2021, there are records of this word in use as far back as 1998, years before the vast social media landscape we know today.
In the 2020s, when you brag or show off, it’s a “flex.” Think of it like flexing muscles, but metaphorically. Graduated first in your class? Total flex. But your accomplishments don’t always have to be so over the top, and “flex” can be used in a teasing fashion. Bought the large fry at McDonald’s? Nice flex.
New Englanders know that the fluffernutter is no new invention. Folks have been eating marshmallow fluff and peanut butter sandwiches since before World War II. Its name, a portmanteau (or mash-up) of its two main ingredients, was coined by an advertising agency in 1960. However, Merriam-Webster didn’t consider it worthy of an entry in the dictionary until 2021. Perhaps our long days at home have us feeling more nostalgic about snack choices.
This Danish and Norwegian word has become a staple of American life in the 2020s. “Hygge” refers to a cozy and comfortable atmosphere that inspires feelings of happiness and warmth. Quarantine must-haves such as fluffy blankets, scented candles, hot tea, and comfy loungewear are perfect for creating a hygge mood. In Danish, the word hygge translates “to give courage, comfort, joy.”
Some words have long-standing dictionary entries, but 2021 brought about a new meaning. Prior to 2020, a “long-hauler” was “someone who travels long distances” or perhaps a business “that specializes in transporting goods or passengers over long distances.” After almost two years with the coronavirus, a new definition has been added to the page: “a person who experiences one or more long-term effects following initial improvement or recovery from a serious illness.” Covid-19 long-haulers may experience fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain.
In the year that gave us the first female Vice President, we also got a new term — Second Gentleman. This is the name for the male partner of the person who’s second in command for the country. There have been 38 women to hold the informal title of Second Lady of the United States, but Kamala Harris’ husband Douglas Emhoff is the first Second Gentleman.
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