The last word on words has spoken. Oxford Dictionaries chose “vape” as the word of the year.
It was selected over cringeworthier choices such as “slacktivism” or “bae” — the latter a term of endearment that was a top contender for censorship in Time magazine’s “Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?” poll.
“Vape” is a nod to the popularity of e-cigarettes, a device that contains nicotine but not tobacco and produces vapor instead of smoke. For the uninitiated, “vape” can refer to inhaling an e-cigarette’s vapor or to an e-cigarette itself. “Vape” can be a noun or a verb.
A few examples:
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Leonardo DiCaprio vaped on camera at the Golden Globes this year.
- Some think vaping is healthier than smoking regular cigarettes.
- In New Jersey, it is illegal to vape indoors.
“Vape” took awhile to percolate into the popular lexicon. It first appeared in the 1980s, when e-cigarettes were a mere twinkle in the eye of a man named Rob Stepney. He wrote an article called “Why Do People Smoke” for New Scientist magazine in 1983 that described a hypothetical device: “an inhaler or ‘non-combustible’ cigarette, looking much like the real thing, but … delivering a metered dose of nicotine vapour. (The new habit, if it catches on, would be known as vaping.)”
The modern e-cigarette was invented by a 52-year-old Chinese pharmacist in 2003, and didn’t appear in the United States until 2006. When it did, Oxford Dictionaries explained, a “gap emerged in the lexicon, as a word was needed to describe this activity, and distinguish it from ‘smoking’. The word vape arose to fill this gap, and it has proliferated along with the habit.”
Oxford Dictionaries chooses its word of the year with the help of software that scans the Web for emerging linguistic trends. But the final choice is made by humans, including the dictionary’s editors, who flag words they notice popping up in their own reading and conversation.
Use of the word “vape” more than doubled in 2014 over last year, according to Oxford. It has even spawned the retronym “tobacco cigarette” to distinguish an e-cigarette from what was once a plain old cigarette. Traditional cigarettes are also referred to as “analog” or “hot cigarettes.”
Other words used by the e-cig in-crowd include: “throat hit,” or the tingly feeling in the throat the user gets when vaporizing juice that has nicotine; “e-juice,” or the liquid that turns to vapor; “carto,” which is short for “cartomizer,” a disposable cartridge that holds e-juice; and “vaporium,” or a place to buy e-cigarettes.
As the 10th word of the year chosen by Oxford since it began the tradition in 2004, “vape” joins other cultural-moment-capturing coinages like “locavore” (2007), “GIF” (2012) and last year’s “selfie.”