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We shape language as much as it shapes us. And it’s constantly evolving.
The top 10 words and phrases that defined this past decade aren’t all necessarily new, but they did gain mainstream popularity, relevance, and acceptance between 2010-2019. To crown these winning terms, we consulted with a swath of experts, including internet linguist and author of, Gretchen McCulloch; Ponoma College sociolinguist Nicole Holliday, as well as Dictionary.com’s lexicographer Heather Bonikowski and senior research editor John Kelly.
Whether or not the following words and phrases — and the many more they spawned over time (bolded throughout) — have short or long lives after the decade, they certainly captured the ideas and phenomenons that ruled this moment in our zeitgeist.
Tech innovator Chris Messina first told Twitter it should use hashtags in 2007 to create “channels” people could use for discovery. The nascent social media platform“these things are for nerds,” doubted they’d become much of a thing, but then eventually embraced them anyway in 2009. By 2010, not only did Instagram also start using hashtags but they becameon Twitter, from the Arab Spring, the Tea Party, and later Occupy Wall Street.
That legacy continues to thrive to this day, with#BlackLivesMatterand#MeTooleading to revolutionary social change because their message can spread online on a global scale. Hashtags and the activists behind them used this power to bring widespread awareness to phenomenons likepolice brutalityandenthusiastic consent, making room forcitizen journalismand (from the more cynical perspective)slacktivism.
But outside that monumental impact, hashtags forever changed the way we shared experiences and information online. They enabledreal-time, live-bloggingof breaking news, like that time some guy on Twitter.
Ironically, hashtags also opened the door forTwitter MomentsandTrending Topics,which similarly gather conversations around a single topic, but without relying on the hashtag to do so. The hashtag still has pull at the end of the decade, but there are new ways to lasso together our fast-paced online conversations, too.
Every generation needs a derisive label for their trendy young people.
The peace-loving boomers in the 1960s were called a bunch of long-haired no-good hippies.Millennialsin the 2010s became the vintage flannel and skinny jean-wearinghipsterswho fetishize retro-tech like polaroid cameras. They come in various subcategories, too, whether it’slumbersexual,normcore, ornerd.
first used in the late 1930s in reference to an in-the-know (aka “hip”) “person who is knowledgeable about or interested in jazz.” That still aligns with our modern stereotypes of arrogant hipsters blindly following of-the-moment trends who were, like, totally into that alt indie-pop band before everyone else was. Apparently some scholars even speculate that “hipster” eventually became “hippie,” before then coming back again.
Aside from millennials, hipsters are also closely associated with the phenomenon ofgentrification. Affluent, usually white young people take over low-income neighborhoods, spiking up the cost of living and displacing the communities that were there before. That’s why the “hipster coffee shop” has become a favorite strawman to deride liberal hypocrisy.
According to Dictionary.com, the connotation that hipsters appropriate marginalized cultures was there early on, too, as evidenced by Norman Mailer’s popular 1957 essay “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster.”
The exact parameters for what a hipster even is changes depending on what’s en vogue at any given moment. But one specific shift we’re seeing at the end of the decade is the notion that all hipsters are millennials., soon millennials will see the death of their own relevance as the target demographic, giving way instead toGeneration Z.
3. Culture War
Perceived threats to one’s race, gender, religious, and cultural identity are one of the only commonalities shared by both sides.
Generally-speaking, partisan politics used to be defined by economics. But the past decade saw a sharp rise in.Identity politicsdoesn’t just refer to its derogatory connotation ofsocial justice warrior snowflakesadvocating forcancel cultureandpolitical correctness(though that’s part of it). The rise of thealt-right, modern white supremacy, andmen’s rights activistsshow how perceived threats to one’s race, gender, religious, and cultural identity are one of the only commonalities shared by both sides.
But what’s undeniable is its impact on language, with each side forming its own set of distinct terminology:problematic,microaggressions,virtue signaling, toxicity, gaslighting, safe spaces, triggered, red pilled, Q-anon, incel. In a world ofalternative facts, when even words likefake news— coined for the specific purpose of trying toourpost-truthexistence — lose all meaning, it’s hard to be sure of anything.
4. Climate change
Throughout the decade, climate change deniers like President Donald Trump have been claiming that “they” (whoever the fuck “they” are) changed the name of environmental collapse from “global warming” to “climate change” because the earth isn’t getting warmer.
They changed the name from “global warming” to “climate change” after the term global warming just wasn’t working (it was too cold)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)March 25, 2013
Scientists have pushed for the switch from global warming to climate changebecause it more accurately describes the fuller scope of what’s happening. Global warming is only one factor within the larger umbrella of climate change. Before even that, in politics the switch happened under none other than former President George W. Bush for more dubious reasons, with one memo suggesting it be used because.
They were actually right.people to be less responsive to the term climate change. That might be part of why the general public’s adoption of the term has been much slower than the political and scientific communities. But it seems the general public has latched onto climate change more in recent years. Comparing the two terms usingshows climate change has overtaken global warming’s search popularity since 2015.
However, to offset some of the psychological disadvantages of climate change, the advocacy groupand notable publications like. The idea is to remain scientifically accurate while also bringing back the sense of urgency and need for action appropriate to the scale of the calamity.Climate strikewas evenin 2019, since its usage shot up 100-fold from 2018 to 2019.
Still others encourage even more dire language, with teen activist Greta Thunberg preferring terms such as “climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown,ecological crisisandecological emergency.“
In his 1996 essay “,” Bill Gates rightfully predicted how the internet would usher in a revolution in the way we think about, produce, supply, and monetize information and entertainment. With the hindsight of the 2010s, we can now say this bold title undersold exactly how radical that shift would be.
In the age ofcontent creators, content marketing, #sponcon, influencers, vloggers, bloggers, streaming services, cinematic universes, andbinge-watching, content isn’t just king. It’s everything from the peasants to our higher power.
Of course, people were blogging and vlogging basically since the internet’s inception. But 2010 saw the first-ever Vidcon, an indication of content creation’s growth and professionalization. With it came the idea that anyone can create content, proliferating the conceit of apersonal brand, an acknowledgment that our online personas are curated ideals rather than our authentic selves.
While Netflix and Hulu launched their streaming services in 2007 and 2008, respectively, Netflix changed everything in 2013 with the, includingHouse of Cards. In 2019, we’re still in the thick of thestreaming wars, with old media mega-corporations like Disney only just now beginning to enter the fray.
Alongside all that came the mainstreaming ofexpanded universes, a concept previously relegated to nerdy niches like comic books and fanfiction. But cultural phenomenons like Marvel andGame of Thronesgave way to the rise of IP (intellectual property) as the cash cow corporations feed with a never-ending stream of new content.
Content is the vague, ephemeral, yet omnipresent digital material that rules us all.
6. Very online
Internet culture obviously predates the 2010s (just ask AIM, Livejournal, and Tumblr). But whatisnew to the decade is a more complete interweaving of digital and pop culture. Digital culture became even more trendy, resulting in two distinct categories of people: those who know all the memes and arevery online, or those who well… aren’t (akalocals).
As is to be expected, often this divide falls down the demographic lines of those who are “pre-internet” (adults before the web), “full-internet” (grew up alongside the web), and “post-internet” (born to a world ruled by the web). But the normalization of social media platforms made it so that following or not following the norms and memes ofinternetspeakis more of a choice now rather than predetermined by age.
For betterorworse, the democratization of content creation on the internet also led to a blurring of lines between internetspeak and slang from marginalized groups. Some phrases like “on fleek” and “yaaas queen” have clear origins in black cultureandrespectively. Similarly “,” “lit,” and “throwing shade” all trace back to black culture, but following widespread generic online adoption they’re often deemed dead by the communities that originated them. Brands and influencers go on to make money by parroting them anyway, effectively whitewashing or pinkwashing their origins.
The question of whether the vast majority of internet slang should be considered cultural appropriation has no easy answer. But recognizing that the marginalized groups who popularize them are often quickly forgotten as the originators tells us a lot about the limits of a digital democracy.
In the 2010s,(though GIFs can serve a similar function as well). All that means is, in order to offset the lack of physical information we usually get from an IRL conversation, we started using symbolic images and icons.
From eggplants to prayer hands, the meanings of emoji took on a life of their own outside of just what each literally depicts. Some have even made it into IRL vocabulary, because we all know what“heart eyes”means when a friend asks if their outfit is cute.
And for that we’re 🙏.
8. Inclusivity and intersectionality
To reiterate, while most of the terms we’re including in this section were coined decades ago by scholars, we’re pointing to their popularization in the mainstream discourse outside of academia during the 2010s.
Inclusivity and intersectionality arrived in a big way on the mainstream stage during the 2018 Academy Awards, and not. Much of their history and original meaning wasover the decade, leading some to criticize them as catch-all, meaningless buzzwords that lead to only superficial politically correct checklists.
Many wrongfully believe inclusivity and intersectionality can be used interchangeably.
Intersectionality specifically describes the often overlooked and unique discrimination experienced by people of multiple overlapping marginalized identities, like race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. It enables us to address the subtleties ofcolorism, or the need fornonbinaryandgenderqueerversions of Latin identifiers likeLatinx,Afro-Latinx, andChicanx
Inclusivity, on the other hand, is a more broadly applicable framework to ensure spaces and policies take all forms of identities into account to avoid discrimination and oppression. The past decade saw some promising linguistic growth around more widely-accepted inclusive language, with theof the singularthey/themand.
Inclusivity allows us to call outTERFs(trans-exclusionary radical feminists) andbi-erasure, for example, or to encompass a fuller spectrum of gender and sexual identity with a +, as inLGBTQIA+.
Intersectionality, inclusivity, and online activism became the defining components of. Often associated with the#MeToo,Time’s Up, andWomen’s Marchmovements, it focuses on addressing the systemic power imbalance embedded in issues likesexual harassment,body shaming,slut shaming, andrape culture.
9. The 1%
Back in 2011, we could do little more than scoff at thethat occupied Wall Street for months. Yet by the end of the decade, it’s become clear just how effective it was at not only bringing widespread but long-lasting awareness to the movement’s core issues.
“We are the 99%.”
In 2019 many of the slogans (“the 1%”and“we are the 99%”) and concepts (the corrupting force of money in politics and widening income inequality) popularized by Occupy Wall Street continue tolike Democratic primary debates.
The Occupy protests evolved and matured beyond their initially more anarchist messines, and now an “eat the rich” and “fuck you pay me” mentality rings out in certain corners of the internet with a regularity we couldn’t have predicted nine years ago.
10. Disruptive technology
We didn’t just rail against the injustices of old establishments throughout the 2010s, though.
Everything fromUber(which beta launched in 2010),tablets(the iPad released in 2010), rise of(iCloud launched in 2011), the proliferation of smart devices utilizing it (aka theInternet of Things), and variousdongles() to connect them changed our ways of life.
Thesharingandgig economytook over so rapidly that laws and policies still have yet to catch up in any effective way.Internet privacyconcerns finally became unignorable with the cloud, and the seedy underbelly ofBig Dataprofiteering showed itself through Facebook. A framework to ensure people’sright to be forgottenis only.
In 2010, society-shattering tech began to feel more inescapable than inspiring. Its unstoppable influence and power led to a general disillusionment with the utopian ideals the tech industry pedaled about connecting in a digital democracy.
We’ve been through a lot over the past ten years. But we made it! And we lacked no ingenuity in the words we used to describe the journey.