Word of the Year 2013 - Shortlist

Below we take a closer look at the words on the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 shortlist, from bedroom tax to twerk. Click through the images below to learn more about the runners-up and discover why they made it on to the shortlist.

bedroom tax, noun, informal

bedroom tax
(In the UK) a reduction in the amount of housing benefit paid to a claimant if the property they are renting is judged to have more bedrooms than is necessary for the number of the people in the household, according to criteria set down by the government.

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 proposed various changes to the rules governing social security benefits in the UK, including an ‘under-occupancy penalty’ to be imposed on households that were receiving housing benefit and that were judged to have bedrooms surplus to their requirements. Critics and opponents soon began to refer to the new penalty as the ‘bedroom tax’, perhaps as a way of associating it with the term poll tax (a popular name for the unpopular community charge, now replaced by council tax). The first references to the bedroom tax in our corpus appear in 2011 but usage increased dramatically around the time this new provision came into force, in April 2013.

binge-watch, verb

To watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming. [ORIGIN 1990s: from BINGE + WATCH, after BINGE-EAT, BINGE-DRINK.]

The word binge-watch has been used in the circles of television fandom since the late 1990s, but it has exploded into mainstream use in the past year. The original context was watching programmes on full-season DVD sets, which freed viewers from the traditional one-episode-per-week schedule of broadcast television, but the word has really come into its own with the advent of on-demand viewing and online streaming. In 2013, binge-watching got a further boost when the video-streaming company Netflix began releasing episodes of its serial programming all at once, rather than individually, with the explicit intention of encouraging binge-watching.

Etymologically, binge-watching represents a new step in the evolution of binge, which began its life as a dialectal word for a drinking spree in the 19th century. By the mid-20th century, the phrases binge-drinking and binge-eating had arisen, and by the end of the century, binge could be combined freely in that way, with the sense of ‘excessive consumption or activity of a specified type in a short period of time’. We have seen evidence of binge-spending, binge-writing, binge-studying, binge-flying, and many more, but binge-watching is the best established new formation thus far. In the past year, it chalked up almost as much evidence on our corpus as binge-eating. (Binge-drinking remains unchallenged in the top position, at least for the moment.)

bitcoin, noun

A digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank. Also, a unit of bitcoin. [ORIGIN early 21st century: from BIT, in the computing sense of ‘a unit of information’ and COIN.]

The term first appeared in late 2008 in a research paper written by a developer, and the first bitcoins were created in 2009. By 2012 the virtual currency was attracting wider attention and we began to see a steadily increasing use of the term in our corpus. A spike in its usage was apparent between March and May earlier in the year which may be due in part to the market crash around that time.

olinguito, noun

A small furry mammal found in mountain forests in Colombia and Ecuador, the smallest member of the raccoon family. (Taxonomic name Bassaricyon neblina) [ORIGIN 2013: diminutive form of OLINGO, a South American mammal resembling the kinkajou.]

The discovery of the olinguito was announced by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in August 2013: it represented the first identification of a new species of mammalian carnivore in the Western hemisphere in 35 years. Extensive coverage of the story in the world’s media was guaranteed by the animal’s cute appearance – it was described as looking like a cross between a teddy bear and a domestic cat.

schmeat, noun, informal

A form of meat produced synthetically from biological tissue. [ORIGIN early 21st century: perhaps from SYNTHETIC and MEAT, influenced by the use of ‘- -, schm – -’ as a disparaging or dismissive exclamation (e.g. fancy schmancy: ‘some of the gourmet sauces you get in fancy schmancy places are just too spicy for me’).]

This word tingles with faux-Yiddish derision – ‘meat, schmeat!’ – drawing on the pattern of genuine Yiddish words of disparagement such as schmuck, schmo, or schmear. Man-made meat is more commonly (and neutrally) known as ‘in-vitro meat’ or ‘cultured meat’. This word remains very rare, largely because the phenomenon it refers to is still in its infancy. However, in August of this year, the world’s first hamburger made with in-vitro meat was served up by Dutch scientists, raising the possibility that the general public may have more occasion to use this word in the not-too-distant future.

showrooming, noun

The practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price. [ORIGIN early 21st century: from SHOWROOM ‘a room used to display goods for sale’.]

Before 2013, there were just a handful of examples of this on our corpus. By the end of October, we’ve seen this figure increase significantly, along with use of the related verb to showroom (‘A survey last year found that 35 percent of shoppers had showroomed/Big ticket items will be the most showroomed items this year’) and the noun showroomer (‘Some retailers have tried to compete with showroomers by reducing prices’).

twerk, verb

Dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance. [ORIGIN 1990s: probably an alteration of WORK.]

Twerk seems to have arisen in the early 1990s, in the context of the bounce music scene in New Orleans. It’s likely that the word was being used in clubs and at parties before that, as an exhortation to dancers. By the mid-1990s, we see evidence of twerk being used online in newsgroups to describe a specific type of dancing. (There are many theories about the origin of this word, and since it arose in oral use, we may never know the answer for sure. We think the most likely theory is that it is an alteration of work, because that word has a history of being used in similar ways, with dancers being encouraged to “work it”. The “t” could be a result of blending with another word such as twist or twitch.) By early 2013, the word had generated enough currency across a range of sources for us to add it to our dictionaries of current English: its association with Miley Cyrus this summer created a huge spike of usage in the media, especially social media.

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