“Unplug” and “On-Brand” Are Among 640 New Words Added to the Dictionary
The new Merriam-Webster entries speak volumes on how our culture is changing.
It’s that time of year again when Merriam-Webster adds new words to the dictionary, serving as a surprising and fascinating indicator of the way in which language is changing in today’s culture. For example, tech addiction and, subsequently, the increasing need for being more mindful and present are behind Merriam-Webster’s addition of “unplug,” one of 640 new words.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a verb with the following (now official) definition: “to temporarily refrain from using electronic devices” or, more broadly, “to temporarily withdraw from the responsibilities and obligations of everyday life.” If you mourn the loss of the 9-5 workday and are constantly anxious about taking a vacation, that probably means you never fully “unplug.”
Anyone who’s familiar with Instagram and the world of social media influencers, however, will likely have heard the term “on-brand,” which is now in Merriam-Webster as well. It’s defined as “appropriate to, typical of, consistent with, or supportive of a particular brand or public image or identity.”
The term first began to circulate when it became clear that many celebrities carefully cultivate a certain image on social media platforms, treating the identity they project much like advertising firms would a product. Since then, “on-brand” has extended beyond the bounds of the internet. It’s common to hear young people today refer to something that they do as “on-brand” to indicate that it aligns with their personality and the way they want to be perceived.
Another slang term that has been circulating for years is “swole,” a complimentary term to describe someone who’s “extremely muscular.” If you check out these images of James McAvoy’s body transformation for the 2016 thriller Split, you’ll see what it means to “get swole.”
Last year, the Oxford English Dictionary added the terms “binge-watching” and “spoiler alert” to describe the modern-day fixation with watching several episodes of a television show in a row while desperately trying to avoid hearing about plot twists. And now, Merriam-Webster has added the term “bingeable” to describe a series that’s worth consuming in one go.
And since we now live in a world in which many people would rather watch Netflix than have sex, it’s probably no surprise that Merriam-Webster has also added the words “buzzy”—meaning generating buzz—and “stan”—which is “to exhibit fandom to an extreme or excessive degree”—to help you describe how you feel about Lyanna Mormont on Game of Thrones, for example.
Scientific advances in medicine and changes in our attitudes toward gender identify has paved the way for Merriam-Webster’s addition of the term “gender nonconforming,” which is defined as “exhibiting behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits that do not correspond with the traits typically associated with one’s sex.” The dictionary has also added “top surgery” and “bottom surgery,” both of which are used to describe types of gender confirmation operations.
And given the current discussion surrounding America’s mental health crisis, it’s likely we’ll also be hearing a lot more of the word “salutogenesis,” which Merriam-Webster now defines as a “newer way of thinking about health” that involves “promoting well-being rather than measuring disease.”
Finally, there are words that have acquired a second meaning in Merriam-Webster. Whereas “peak” once referred to the top of a hill or mountain, it is now used to also mean “being at the height of popularity, use, or attention.” It’s often used “before the name of a product, person, [or] cultural trend.” For example, given that Ellen DeGeneres loves surprising her guests with gifts, one might describe the moment she set up a meeting between an 11-year-old singer and his idol as “peak Ellen.”
And for more colloquial words you should be aware of, check out the 20 Online Dating Terms Older People Don’t Know.
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