How Trendy Is Your Lingo? Check Out 2021’s Top Words

By Sherry M. Adler

With all of these new words coming into vogue, a question may occur. Does Merriam Webster ever remove words?


Merriam-Webster lives! This ultimate source for all things words has been around since 1828. Toward the beginning of every year, after an exhaustive vetting process, the lexicographers add words and definitions that made the cut. What’s the main factor behind the decision? They sum it up in one word (of course): “usage.” This means: “the editors study the language as it’s used. They carefully monitor which words people use most often and how they use them.”  

In January 2021, the team introduced 520 words. A number of them trace their roots to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include: 

  • Pod (noun): Mainly during the lockdown phases of the pandemic, some people formed their own pod. The word signifies a small group of family, friends, neighbors or others. The members bond together and agree to limit exposure to people outside of the pod to lower the risk of contracting and spreading the disease. Those in the pod might share responsibility for things like childcare, education, and meal prep, as well as dining and socializing together. 
  • Wet market (noun): To understand this term, start by picturing a farmers’ market. Then expand that vision. These commercial centers sell fresh produce and other perishable goods. The list of items also tends to include live animals, which may be slaughtered right on the spot. Some experts speculate that unsafe conditions at wet markets may be the source of the coronavirus epidemic.  

Here are some others from the class of January 2021: 

  • Decarceration (noun): Think of this word at face value as the opposite of incarceration. It concerns the release of those who are in prison. But the term has broader implications too. In this context, decarceration is a practice or movement. The objective is to decrease the number of people sent to prison in the first place as well as develop channels to release those who are in custody.  
  • Hygge (noun and adjective): From the Danish language, hygge is pronounced “hue-gah” or “hoo-guh.” In its noun form, it denotes a quality of coziness, which makes a person feel content and comfortable. As an adjective, it means cozy or comfortable. The word shot to prominence during the pandemic, as people sought to offset stress with pleasantries. What is an example of hygge in a sentence? “Grace, simplicity, and gratitude are the principles hygge practitioners adhere to for an abiding sense of well-being.”  
  • Sapiosexual (adjective and noun): When it comes to romance, is high intelligence the number one factor that attracts you to someone? If so, you are sapiosexual. 

 

The Next Batch of New Words in Town

The list did not stop with publication of the large infusion of new words in January. Merriam-Webster kept at it and added another set in October 2021. The pick of the litter includes: 

  • Blank check company (noun): Do you tune in to CNBC on weekdays? If so, you hear about this and that SPAC, short for special purpose acquisition company. It’s another term for blank check company. They refer to a “corporate shell set up by investors for the sole purpose of raising money through an initial public offering (IPO) to acquire another business yet to be determined.” The largest blank check companies at the time of this writing include: Vertiv Holdings, Jaws Spitfire Acquisition Corp. and Tuscan Holdings Corp. 
  • Dad bod (noun): Like it or not, this term denotes the physique of a stereotypical father. It’s a body type that is not particularly muscular or toned and a little pudgy in the mid-section. But fret not — it’s a hot new look today. A commentator on the Merriam-Webster site notes: “Even Hollywood latched onto the more attainable physique with actors sporting bodies that were not chiseled, not incredibly lean, and a little soft in the middle.” Welcome to the era of the dad bod.  
  • Deplatform (verb): Another new word that starts with “de,” it has to do with removing someone from something. In this case, if signifies banishing a registered user from a communication medium (platform). Social media and blogging sites are the main channels. This action occurs because the person/group has violated the terms of service.  
  • Digital nomad (noun): A perfect blend of “digital” and “nomad,” this term describes a person who works totally over the Internet (“digital”) while traveling (“nomad”). But there’s more to the second half. Such a person has no permanent fixed home address (the essence of a “nomad”). Investopedia adds some color to the term. “A digital nomad may work out of cafes, beaches or hotel rooms, and as they are not tied down to any one location.”     
  • Fourth trimester (noun): This new catchphrase adds another three months to the standard nine-month gestation process. The fourth trimester is a challenging phase; it’s rife with adjustments for all involved. The mother recovers from giving birth and transitions into caring for her newborn during this postpartum period. The infant acclimates to life outside the womb. The fourth trimester is a trying time, when “women and their families experience substantial physiological, social, and emotional changes.”  
  • Vaccine passport (noun): This new entry brings to mind an ad slogan from American Express, created many years back and recently revised. “Don’t leave home without it.” That’s the importance of a vaccine passport, hoisted into the spotlight by COVID-19. This physical or digital document shows proof of vaccination against one or several infectious diseases. New York was the first state to issue a vaccine passport—the Excelsior Pass. And you need to flash it or other proof to eat indoors at restaurants in NYC and enter health clubs and indoor entertainment venues.   
  • Whataboutism (noun): This word comes from the fractious political scene today. It is a rhetorical device; it’s used by activists, advocates, commentators, elected officials, pundits, and spin doctors. This ploy is a way of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming an offense committed by another is similar or worse. Think of it as a derivative of one-upping. It deflects, side steps, and counteracts the root issue by drawing attention to another thing. Whataboutism aims to muddle, befuddle and, above all, obfuscate.  

In and Out

With all of these new words coming into vogue, a question may occur. Does Merriam Webster ever remove words? Yes, but not nearly as many as it adds. Reader’s Digest explains. “Some words recently hit the chopping block in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary—meaning they’re no longer included in the print edition.” The examples provided include the following: frutescent, hodad, snollygoster, sternforemost and Vitamin G.  

 

About the author. 
You name it, she covers it. That’s the can-do attitude Sherry M. Adler brings to the craft of writing. A polished marketing and communications professional, she has a passion for learning and the world at large. She uses it plus the power of words to inform and energize stakeholders of all kinds. And to show how all of this can make a difference, she calls her business WriteResults NY, LLC.