Hashtag Selfie! The 10 Words That Defined 2013

2013 was a year of words that defined us. Not only defined us individually, but as a society. Social media has definitely helped to spread the words that have now become commonplace in the Anglophone vocabulary: Indeed, some of these terms are so easily recognized due to online, international diffusion that they even transcend the language barriers. Whether you think these 'new' words are ridiculous or not, chances are you'll probably recognize them and understand them.

The study of the origin of words, or 'etymology', was previously an obscure specialisation delving into ancient historical literature. Now, new words are cropping up yearly and the words' origins are usually very easy to trace. In 2014, if someone hears or sees something it’s usually tweeted at the speed of light. The way we communicate is constantly evolving - increasingly quickly, thanks to the online revolution - and our vocabulary is evolving at the same pace.

Trends in food, fashion, music, movies and literature continue to change the way we speak. A person who enjoys food and cooking, latterly known as a 'gastronome', is now more commonly known  a ‘foodie’. In fashion, someone who designs clothes or has a love of clothing is now cited as a ‘fashionista’. The word ‘diva' - originally an Italian term that dates back to 1883 and refers to a female opera singer - is now more commonly used to describe a strong powerful female with an attitude to match. The series of Harry Potter books and movies became a real phenomenon. In fact, the word ‘muggle’ has been officially entered into the Oxford dictionary. A ‘muggle’, is someone who has no magical abilities at all. It’s sometimes used to describe a person who has no real skills or talent. Not exactly a nice word, but one that's now officially in our vocabulary. Several words have been usurped by the internet generation, with their meanings warping to fit into a new cyber paradigm. You know all those 'memes' that 'go viral'? That sentence, so common now, would have contained no logical sense ten years ago because the words had completely different associations in our vocabulary.

It's the relationship between people and technology that, increasingly, has the most significant impact on our language. 'Colloquial' phrases or 'in jokes' - which by their very nature thrive in small, intimate environments - now capture the universal imagination online and enter into our common vocabulary rapidly. Just as in jokes are often fads, so too these words have been seen to disappear from our vocabulary as quickly as they appeared. Can anyone forget the age of YOLO - an abbreviation of, ‘You Only Live Once’? That was SO 2012.

Having researched sources which cite the words most-used in social media, blogs and online new publications - such as languagemonitor.com - and correlating that information with some of the most significant events of the year, we've collated the 10 most influential words of 2013. Some of these are pre-existing words which have become more popular, or have been endowed with new meaning; some are brand new words or terms in our vocabulary. Whether these words become a permanent fixture in our vocabulary, or whether they've disappeared into thin air by December 2014, these ten are the key words that shed light on the year that was, 2013.

10 Whistleblower

Edward Snowden has become the person most associated with this word. 'Snowdon', 'surveillance' and 'whistelblower' are three terms that have cropped up together in innumerable news articles, tweets and blogs across the webosphere in 2013. A 'whistleblower' is someone who reveals the misconduct or the illegal activities of an organization. In 2013, Snowden - a former NSA (National Security Agency) agent for the United States - leaked shocking evidence that the US government was using various types of surveillance to spy on not only its own citizens but also some of its closest allies, including Great Britain and Germany. Snowden released several documents - enough to tarnish the reputation of the US government and potentially threaten America's international relations. Snowdon claims to have more damaging information, but has not yet made it public. Obviously, this didn't go down well with the American authorities. 2013's most famous whistleblower has spent the year fleeing from the US government and is currently residing in Russia, though news outlets have reported that he may soon be on the move once again.

9 Snapchat

Created by three former Stanford University students, this smartphone app allows you to send messages, pictures, and videos. Initially released in 2011, Snapchat hit the big league in 2013 and now averages about 350 million messages a day, and has become hugely popular amongst teens and young adults. The amazing thing about this app is that you can control how long the message can be viewed, once opened. You can choose between 1 and 10 seconds. After that time, it’s deleted from the person’s phone- although concerns as to whether or not the pic is certainly removed from Snapchat's servers have been raised. Unfortunately just this past week, the Snapchat servers were hacked and 4.6 million user accounts were compromised. If these security violations continue, people might not be ‘Snapchatting’ quite as much in 2014.

8 Nano

Nano smartphones, nano smartwatches, nano laptops, nano machines….it seemed like nanotechnology was everywhere in 2013. Bigger might sometimes be better, but that certainly doesn’t apply in this case. Apple, Sony and Samsung are three of the largest companies trying to break into this new market. Nanotechnology is an emerging phenomenon in recreational technology, but it's already a fixture in the medical field. There are pills equipped with tiny cameras to take pictures inside our bodies, and little microchips that can be inserted into the body and administer medicine. The possibilities are endless. So will this technology gain even more popularity in 2014? With talk of things like a 'nano iPhone' in the works, we're sure nanotechnology has a lot more to offer.

7 Twerking

Twerking is a kind of sexually provocative dance that involves hip shaking, thrusting and bouncing your behind. It’s been around since the 1990s, but didn’t become internationally well known until it was introduced by Miley Cyrus (formerly known as the innocent and loveable Disney sweetheart, Hannah Montana) at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Miley's infamous performance caused an internet storm and 'twerking' hit the mainstream, it was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary Online. So whether you enjoy a bit of twerking or find it simply appalling, it literally had tongues wagging in 2013.

6 Selfie

2013 was the year of the ‘selfie’. The word was, in fact, officially named as the word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary in November 2013 - and was cited as having originated on an Australian online forum in 2002. Thanks to the front-facing cameras now standard on mobile devices, everyone from teens to celebrities have been indulging in the somewhat narcissistic pastime of taking pictures of themselves and posting them online. Even President Obama, British Prime Minister Cameron, and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt were recently caught together taking a group selfie - which might not have been so bad, had it not been at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service. Some considered it bad timing and in poor taste, but the international trio of leaders genuinely expressed that they meant no offence. Hey, even Pope Francis himself joined in on a selfie!

5 Drones

Although a highly controversial issue, the US has been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) equipped with weapons to track and kill enemies and terrorists. These drones can be controlled remotely, or by a built in computer system. While the technology used is highly advanced, there's still the slight risk of causing innocent fatalities. The Obama administration stands by the decision, and will continue to use them. On the lighter side of drone usage, this year the technology hit headlines when Amazon.com announced that they are experimenting with using drones for some of their deliveries. This announcement highlighted the potential for commerical use of drones and has caused heated debate among the general public, or at least the general tweeters. As of the end of 2013, the US aviation regulator has confirmed that at least six American states will start testing drones for commercial use.

4 @Pontifex

While not actually a word, this is how you can contact Pope Francis on Twitter. The mere fact that the Pope got on Twitter this year goes to show how just how far social media has come. Probably the most popular and well liked Pope of our lifetime, Pope Francis made quite an impression on the world in 2013. Indeed, the popularity of @Pontifex made this word the forth most common word of 2013, according to the Global Language Monitor. People from all backgrounds and religious affiliations seem to genuinely appreciate his modesty and candor. The Pope hasn’t shied away from controversial topics, either. He’s publically addressed important, contentious issues such as homosexuality and women in the church.

3 Hashtag

The hashtag/pound symbol, which flags a term or a theme, gained popularity worldwide. While used primarily on Twitter, it has also shown up on other social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Lately, the hashtag has moved from its strictly functional online usage to become an emphatic term and a punctuation mark in our general vocabulary. The full word, 'hashtag', is now often used in spoken language immediately before a phrase to add emphasis. It's also used to elaborate on a sentiment. # is probably the first punctuation mark to singularly be appropriated by the cyber generation, losing its original function to its new - Twitter-born - one. Happy New Year! #Goodbye2013

2 Fail

The word ‘fail’ was made increasingly popular by internet 'memes', which are (usually) humorous pictures overlaid by a caption that describes a thought, feeling, or situation to match the picture. The word 'fail' was not, historically, a noun in the English vocabulary. The word functioned as a verb, while the corresponding noun was 'failure'. Now, it's common for something to be described as 'a fail', and it looks like the word is more commonly regarded as a noun than a verb these days. While it may seem a bit harsh, people seem find it quite amusing and thanks to the 'meme' culture, the word has been widely adopted by languages other than English, retaining its meaning.

1 404

More commonly known as ‘HTTP Error 404’, the now almost universally recognized significance of these numbers has become so entrenched that it was chosen as the ‘Top Word of 2013’ by the Global Language Monitor. 404 is a computer error message that most of us have seen at one time or another, when an internet page fails to load. It’s followed by the words ‘Not Found’. The term, word or code - however you prefer to classify it! - is now used interchangeably with 'fail' to identify an incident when a system fails or breaks down. #vocabulary404

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