A decade of BuzzWords


So Christmas is here, that time of year when, for most of us at least, there’s a temporary period of things being just that little bit different – the house looks different, we eat different food, maybe spend time with different people, perhaps have a different routine … And therefore, in an effort to go with the seasonal flow, we thought we’d make the final BuzzWord of 2013 look that little bit different too.

In February 2013, BuzzWord reached its tenth birthday, and as we look back on our endeavours over these past years we’re conscious of how fascinating it’s been to explore word formation in a decade where, courtesy of new technologies, the topic of language change has hit the global spotlight. It seems only fitting, then, to close the door on a whole decade of BuzzWords by dipping into the treasure trove of coinages we’ve amassed. Below, we therefore pull out a selection of words which might be considered some of the ‘winners’ – a word from each year of BuzzWord’s lifetime which evidence suggests is likely to hang on in there because it looks to have filled a lexical gap for an enduring concept.

2003 flashmob

noun [countable] a large group of people who suddenly gather in a public place, do something for a short time, and quickly go away again

In June of 2003, over 100 people gathered around a rug on the 9th floor of Macy’s department store in New York, and the concept of the flash mob was born. Ten years later and this curiously random activity is still going strong, facilitated by the growth of social media and the ‘connected’ communities we inhabit.

‘A police officer chose a Peterborough shopping centre to propose to his girlfriend – and enrolled a flash-mob to help his cause. Mandi Brown had no idea that the dancers from Peterborough Regional College were there in her honour.’


2004 metrosexual

noun [countable], adjective (describing) a heterosexual male with a strong interest in fashion, appearance and other lifestyle characteristics traditionally associated with women

At the beginning of 2004 language pundits across the globe hailed metrosexual as their ‘word of the year’. Photogenic footballer and celebrity icon David Beckham epitomized the metrosexual ideal, and though Beckham has since retired from the beautiful game, the ‘beautiful guy’ concept that the word characterizes is still alive and well.

‘The rise of metrosexual men has risen dramatically in the past ten years. The idea of a traditional bread-winning, macho man is beginning to fade, and the idea of a metrosexual man is coming more to the fore. Although both types of men are stereotypically “heterosexual”, their traits are poles apart.’


2005 wardrobe malfunction

noun [countable] an embarrassing situation caused by a problem with an article of clothing

In the mid-2000s the compound wardrobe malfunction burst onto the scene as a way of describing situations where a hitch with an item of clothing caused accidental exposure of a body part one would normally expect to be concealed. This fun euphemism struck a chord with both celebrity and Joe Public, its meaning softening overtime to become a more generic reference to any embarrassing or awkward episode caused by clothing. The expression has proved so useful it’s even made the leap into other languages, as for example Dutch garderobedefect or Spanish mal funcionamiento del guardarropa.

‘Patrick Robinson overcomes wardrobe malfunction to deliver ‘best ever’ Strictly samba … The Casualty star delivered a sizzling samba on Saturday night … but the routine suffered a setback when dance partner Anya Garnis got slightly tangled in her pink feather-adorned frock.’


2006 afterpartyafter-party

noun [countable] a relaxed social gathering which occurs after a party, concert, or trip to a nightclub

Around the middle of the decade, media coverage of large, glittery celebrity events such as the Oscar and BAFTA awards ceremonies suddenly started making effervescent reference to the after-party, an eagerly anticipated relaxing and drinking session taking place after the main event. The after-party continues to thrive in 2013, providing yet more fodder for hungry paparazzi and celebrity gossip columns.

‘Triumphant Lady Gaga Steps Out For Saturday Night Live After-Party Following Successful Hosting Debut … The 28-year-old won praise for her apparent ease in fronting the show for the first time, and she was quick to celebrate with an after-party in her native New York’


2007 walking bus

noun [countable] an organized group of children who walk to school together accompanied by two or more adults

In late 2006, then UK transport minister Douglas Alexander announced an investment of £15 million to provide grants for establishing and energizing walking bus schemes throughout the country. Several years on and the walking bus is now a firmly established concept, with children and adults across the world enjoying the associated health benefits as they do their bit to combat traffic congestion and pollution.

‘Children from St Columb Major Academy put their best foot forward yesterday (Tuesday) to launch a walking bus from the town centre. The scheme is designed to encourage children who would normally be driven to school to walk all or part of the way on foot …’


2008 man fluman-flu

noun [uncountable] a common cold which is exaggerated to be a much more serious condition by the male sufferer

The comical designation of a man’s over-exaggeration of cold symptoms as man flu seems to have resonated with all walks of society. Its recipe for success may be tied up in the fact that it appears to have resisted any serious association with sexism, remaining light-hearted and predominantly humorous rather than pejorative.

‘The whole point of man-flu is that it’s totally worse than any other cold – and that’s why us men, usually so strong in the faces of numerous adversities (right?), struggle to cope with it.’


2009 redact

verb [transitive] to make changes to a document when preparing it for publication

In 2009, redact, a lesser-known synonym of the verb edit, burst out of relative obscurity when it emerged that key information in documents relating to ‘inappropriate’ expenses claims by British MPs had conveniently been ‘blacked out’. Redact has subsequently been fully embraced by mainstream English as a useful way to refer to the action of deliberately obscuring or deleting sensitive information within a document you are legally obliged to publish.

‘According to the paper, the report by Sir John Chilcot is expected to be “highly critical” of the way Blair decided to commit British forces to the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. If the Obama administration refuses to sanction the release of correspondents [sic] between Bush and Blair, David Cameron would have to either heavily redact the report or remove the conclusions based on the letters.’


2010 jeggings

noun [plural] leggings (=trousers worn by women that stretch and fit very closely to their legs) that look similar to jeans

The fashion world seems to have a bit of a penchant for inventing blended terms based on ‘hybrids’ of particular garments, though such expressions are often a flash in the pan, disappearing as soon as the related fashion gimmick’s popularity wanes. However, love them or loathe them, jeggings seem to be just as popular today as they were when they first appeared, and so this blend looks like it might just buck the trend and become a more enduring feature of the fashion lexicon.

‘Slinky in black: Christine Bleakley looks slender as she steps out in matching shirt and jeggings …’


2011 photobomb

verb [transitive], noun [countable] to spoil a photograph by moving into the camera shot immediately before the picture is taken, usually in order to play a practical joke on the subjects or photographer

In this age of digital photography and the camera in everyone’s pocket courtesy of the smartphone, it’s never been easier to take impromptu snapshots and simply discard any you don’t want. It’s perhaps this fact which gives the term photobomb a fighting chance of survival. Here’s a concept which, bizarrely, would have had the potential to cause a great deal of irritation in the analogue era of photography, but instead seems to be predominantly viewed as a bit of light-hearted fun. It’s my guess that we’ll still be chuckling atphotobombs in ten years’ time.

‘Earlier today, New York photographer Sascha Reinking tweeted out a photo from a recent wedding session he did for a newlywed couple from Germany. While editing his photos from the shoot, Reinking noticed that none other than Zach Braff had photobombed one of his photos in Times Square.’


2012 troll

verb [transitive/intransitive], noun [countable] to write negative or provocative comments on a website in order to deliberately cause others to react in a particular way

Ten years earlier and the word troll would have primarily conjured up images of a mythical, dwarf-like creature who lives in caves and pops up as the bad guy in certain fairy-tales. By 2012 however, the Internet use of the word troll had really taken hold and was dropped into the radar of the general public that year via media coverage of certain high profile targets. Reminiscent of web some years before it, this new sense of troll looks well on the way to eclipsing its 20th century counterpart.

‘One in 12 users have been trolled on social media, only 35% reported the abuse …’


2013 fracking

noun [uncountable] a method of extracting oil or gas from a layer of rock by drilling and creating cracks

In a climate of escalating fuel prices and depletion of the energy reserves we once took for granted, the process of fracking seems to many like the golden egg that will feed our perpetual hunger for energy during the 21st century. Its long-term impact on the environment is unclear however, creating a classic tug-of-war between demand and ecological conscience which means the word is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

‘While community benefits might provide a financial incentive to people living near fracking sites, it will be critical to a successful shale gas industry to engage with residents and encourage concerns to be addressed at the early stages of development.’



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