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It’s official!

It’s official!
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In January 2021, Merriam-Webster added 520 new words and definitions to the dictionary. That’s hundreds of words and phrases that have reached enough popularity to fall under the umbrella of common usage and that have gone through an official process before being given the dictionary’s stamp of approval. These additions reflect just how much the English language keeps growing and changing. “Language is a measure of culture, but also, in many ways, language can be a measure of time,” explains Peter Sokolowski, the Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster. “When enough of us use these words to communicate, it becomes the dictionary’s job to catalogue them and report on how they are used.”

So, what kinds of words are now part of our lexicon? The dictionary’s latest list reflects everything from pandemic-related phrases and slang words to a few “old” words you won’t believe weren’t included years ago. Here are 25 that we think made the biggest impact or otherwise captured our attention.

Hard pass

Hard pass
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“Who among us didn’t want to give the year 2020 a hard pass?” asks Merriam-Webster’s senior editor Emily Brewster. A hard pass is a compound term that expresses a concept: “a firm refusal or rejection of something (such as an offer).” First coined online in 2014, hard pass has made the rounds on social media. “Useful when a wry rejection is called for, I can’t help but feel like it’s a unifying term,” Brewster says.

Check out these 15 words and phrases that perfectly defined 2020.

Cancel culture

Cancel culture
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Merriam-Webster defines this term as “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass cancelling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Cancelling someone or something is essentially erasing them from your life, removing your stamp of approval from their behaviour, or drawing attention to the fact that you’re no longer supporting them. For instance, fans might “cancel” a celebrity in reaction to the star’s cultural appropriation or use of a racial slur. When an icon is “cancelled” en masse, they lose hundreds of thousands of fans and followers, stalling or eviscerating their career. Cancel culture refers to the practice as a whole.

Hygge

Hygge
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You know that feeling of snuggling up on the couch in front of a flickering fire? Or wearing your favourite slippers while drinking hot tea? Well, there’s a name for that: hygge.

“I find the word hygge to be utterly charming,” Brewster says. “It’s a word that does a job in a foreign language (in this case Danish and Norwegian) that no English word does. Until, of course, English adopts it and makes it its own – as is the language’s long-standing habit. In the bleakest days of winter, I also take comfort in the very existence of a word that means ‘a cosy quality that makes a person feel content and comfortable.’”

Learn these 6 romantic words with no English equivalent.

Flex

Flex
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If you’re bragging to your friends about the $1,000 you just dropped on a pair of socks, don’t be surprised to hear this comeback: “Weird flex, but OK.” Basically, that means you’re bragging about something odd or questionable. This year, Merriam-Webster gave the word flex a new informal definition based on Internet slang: “an act of bragging or showing off.”

BIPOC

BIPOC
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For years, the acronym POC was used to refer to “People of Colour.” BIPOC – ”Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Colour” – picked up major steam in 2020. You probably saw the term on your social media channels and read it in the news during the protests that surged after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in May 2020.

BIPOC is an important example of how language evolves. Rather than lumping several groups into a single descriptor like POC, you can use BIPOC to acknowledge the diversity of experiences.

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Wet market

Wet market
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On Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day podcast, the hosts emphasise that words and phrases are added to the dictionary only after they’ve reached a certain level of usage. Sometimes words circulate for years before they earn a spot in Merriam-Webster’s pages. That’s the case for wet market, defined as “a market that sells perishable items (such as fresh meat and produce) and sometimes live animals which are often slaughtered on-site.” It picked up steam early last year when scientists were researching the start of the coronavirus and found a group of infected people who all had a connection to a Wuhan wet market, where live bats were sold as food. We now know that it does not spread through food, but there are still many coronavirus mysteries that can’t be explained.

Makerspace

Makerspace
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Have you ever taken a cake-decorating class at your local craft store? Or maybe you’ve joined the scrapbooking club at the community centre? Well, there’s a word for those places: makerspaces! Merriam-Webster defines the term as “a communal public workshop in which makers can work on small personal projects.” A makerspace is like an art studio for the whole community. Most makerspaces cater to hobbyists rather than professional artists.

Coworking

Coworking
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Coworking – “working in a building where multiple tenants (such as entrepreneurs, start-ups, or non-profits) rent working space and have the use of communal facilities” – is nothing new. But remember, a word or phrase needs to reach a certain level of usage or circulation before it gets added to Merriam-Webster. Let’s use this one in a sentence: In 2020, many people were forced to leave their offices and coworking spaces to social distance.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding
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Like coworking, this one is a compound word made up of two familiar words. Merriam-Webster defines crowdfunding as “the practice of obtaining needed funding (as for a new business) by soliciting contributions from a large number of people especially from the online community.” Popular crowdfunding platforms include Kickstarter (for businesses) and GoFundMe (for fundraisers and individual assistance).

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