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.
“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.
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.