We shape language as much as it shapes us. And it's constantly evolving.
The top 10 words and phrases that defined this past decade arent all necessarily new, but they did gain mainstream popularity, relevance, and acceptance between 2010-2019. To crown these winning terms, we consulted with a swath of experts, including internet linguist and author of Because Internet, Gretchen McCulloch; Ponoma College sociolinguist Nicole Holliday, as well as Dictionary.com's lexicographer Heather Bonikowski and senior research editor John Kelly.
Whether or not the following words and phrases and the many more they spawned over time (bolded throughout) have short or long lives after the decade, they certainly captured the ideas and phenomenons that ruled this moment in our zeitgeist.
Over the past decade the hashtag changed the way we use social media, launched revolutionary social movements, and bled into IRL vernacular.
Tech innovator Chris Messina first told Twitter it should use hashtags in 2007 to create "channels" people could use for discovery. The nascent social media platform reportedly told him "these things are for nerds," doubted they'd become much of a thing, but then eventually embraced them anyway in 2009. By 2010, not only did Instagram also start using hashtags but they became integral to organizing a number of social movements on Twitter, from the Arab Spring, the Tea Party, and later Occupy Wall Street.
Twitter helped sound the alarm on important global issues.
Image: vicky leta / mashable
That legacy continues to thrive to this day, with #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo leading to revolutionary social change because their message can spread online on a global scale. Hashtags and the activists behind them used this power to bring widespread awareness to phenomenons like police brutality and enthusiastic consent, making room for citizen journalism and (from the more cynical perspective) slacktivism.
But outside that monumental impact, hashtags forever changed the way we shared experiences and information online. They enabled real-time, live-blogging of breaking news, like that time some guy on Twitter accidentally broke the news of the Osama Bin Laden raid.
Ironically, hashtags also opened the door for Twitter Moments and Trending Topics, which similarly gather conversations around a single topic, but without relying on the hashtag to do so. The hashtag still has pull at the end of the decade, but there are new ways to lasso together our fast-paced online conversations, too.
Every generation needs a derisive label for their trendy young people.
The peace-loving boomers in the 1960s were called a bunch of long-haired no-good hippies. Millennials in the 2010s became the vintage flannel and skinny jean-wearing hipsters who fetishize retro-tech like polaroid cameras. They come in various subcategories, too, whether it's lumbersexual, normcore, or nerd.
Dictionary.com traces the word hipster back to "hepster," first used in the late 1930s in reference to an in-the-know (aka "hip") "person who is knowledgeable about or interested in jazz." That still aligns with our modern stereotypes of arrogant hipsters blindly following of-the-moment trends who were, like, totally into that alt indie-pop band before everyone else was. Apparently some scholars even speculate that "hipster" eventually became "hippie," before then coming back again.
Aside from millennials, hipsters are also closely associated with the phenomenon of gentrification. Affluent, usually white young people take over low-income neighborhoods, spiking up the cost of living and displacing the communities that were there before. That's why the "hipster coffee shop" has become a favorite strawman to deride liberal hypocrisy.
We were over hipster before everyone else was.
Image: vicky leta / mashable
According to Dictionary.com, the connotation that hipsters appropriate marginalized cultures was there early on, too, as evidenced by Norman Mailer's popular 1957 essay The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster.
The exact parameters for what a hipster even is changes depending on what's en vogue at any given moment. But one specific shift we're seeing at the end of the decade is the notion that all hipsters are millennials. After killing just about everything else, soon millennials will see the death of their own relevance as the target demographic, giving way instead to Generation Z.
The modern concept of an American culture war dates back to the early 90s. But the polarizing "battle lines" only truly seem to have solidified in the 2010s.
Perceived threats to one's race, gender, religious, and cultural identity are one of the only commonalities shared by both sides.
Generally-speaking, partisan politics used to be defined by economics. But the past decade saw a sharp rise in increasingly personal and identity-driven political divides. Identity politics doesn't just refer to its derogatory connotation of social justice warrior snowflakes advocating for cancel culture and political correctness (though that's part of it). The rise of the alt-right, modern white supremacy, and men's rights activists show how perceived threats to one's race, gender, religious, and cultural identity are one of the only commonalities shared by both sides.
In truth, definitive, hard facts about the culture war why it began (like online echo chambers), when it began, or even the exact nature of its existence are kind of impossible to determine in any level-headed manner while we're in the thick of it.
But what's undeniable is its impact on language, with each side forming its own set of distinct terminology: problematic, microaggressions, virtue signaling, toxicity, gaslighting, safe spaces, triggered, red pilled, Q-anon, incel. In a world of alternative facts, when even words like fake news coined for the specific purpose of trying to objectively measure our post-truth existence lose all meaning, it's hard to be sure of anything.
Throughout the decade, climate change deniers like President Donald Trump have been claiming that "they" (whoever the fuck "they" are) changed the name of environmental collapse from "global warming" to "climate change" because the earth isn't getting warmer.
He is wrong.
Scientists have pushed for the switch from global warming to climate change since 2005 because it more accurately describes the fuller scope of what's happening. Global warming is only one factor within the larger umbrella of climate change. Before even that, in politics the switch happened under none other than former President George W. Bush for more dubious reasons, with one memo suggesting it be used because climate change sounded "less frightening" than global warming.
They were actually right. Studies have shown people to be less responsive to the term climate change. That might be part of why the general public's adoption of the term has been much slower than the political and scientific communities. But it seems the general public has latched onto climate change more in recent years. Comparing the two terms using Google Search trends shows climate change has overtaken global warmings search popularity since 2015.
However, to offset some of the psychological disadvantages of climate change, the advocacy group Public Citizen urged people to retire climate change in lieu of "climate crisis," and notable publications like The Guardian have followed suit. The idea is to remain scientifically accurate while also bringing back the sense of urgency and need for action appropriate to the scale of the calamity. Climate strike was even Collins Dictionary's Word of the Year in 2019, since its usage shot up 100-fold from 2018 to 2019.
Still others encourage even more dire language, with teen activist Greta Thunberg preferring terms such as "climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency."
News alert: climate change isn't always warm.
Image: vicky leta / mashable
In his 1996 essay "Content is King," Bill Gates rightfully predicted how the internet would usher in a revolution in the way we think about, produce, supply, and monetize information and entertainment. With the hindsight of the 2010s, we can now say this bold title undersold exactly how radical that shift would be.
In the age of content creators, content marketing, #sponcon, influencers, vloggers, bloggers, streaming services, cinematic universes, and binge-watching, content isn't just king. It's everything from the peasants to our higher power.
Of course, people were blogging and vlogging basically since the internet's inception. But 2010 saw the first-ever Vidcon, an indication of content creation's growth and professionalization. With it came the idea that anyone can create content, proliferating the conceit of a personal brand, an acknowledgment that our online personas are curated ideals rather than our authentic selves.
While Netflix and Hulu launched their streaming services in 2007 and 2008, respectively, Netflix changed everything in 2013 with the release of its first slate of originals, including House of Cards. In 2019, we're still in the thick of the streaming wars, with old media mega-corporations like Disney only just now beginning to enter the fray.
Content is Prison.
Image: vicky leta / mashable
Alongside all that came the mainstreaming of expanded universes, a concept previously relegated to nerdy niches like comic books and fanfiction. But cultural phenomenons like Marvel and Game of Thrones gave way to the rise of IP (intellectual property) as the cash cow corporations feed with a never-ending stream of new content.
Content is the vague, ephemeral, yet omnipresent digital material that rules us all.
Internet culture obviously predates the 2010s (just ask AIM, Livejournal, and Tumblr). But what is new to the decade is a more complete interweaving of digital and pop culture. Digital culture became even more trendy, resulting in two distinct categories of people: those who know all the memes and are very online, or those who well... arent (aka locals).
As is to be expected, often this divide falls down the demographic lines of those who are "pre-internet" (adults before the web), "full-internet" (grew up alongside the web), and "post-internet" (born to a world ruled by the web). But the normalization of social media platforms made it so that following or not following the norms and memes of internetspeak is more of a choice now rather than predetermined by age.
Grandma can be very online if she wants to!
Image: vicky leta / mashable
For better or worse, the democratization of content creation on the internet also led to a blurring of lines between internetspeak and slang from marginalized groups. Some phrases like "on fleek" and "yaaas queen" have clear origins in black culture and queer drag culture respectively. Similarly "woke," "lit," and "throwing shade" all trace back to black culture, but following widespread generic online adoption theyre often deemed dead by the communities that originated them. Brands and influencers go on to make money by parroting them anyway, effectively whitewashing or pinkwashing their origins.
The question of whether the vast majority of internet slang should be considered cultural appropriation has no easy answer. But recognizing that the marginalized groups who popularize them are often quickly forgotten as the originators tells us a lot about the limits of a digital democracy.
In the 2010s, emoji became the most popular form of online gesture communication (though GIFs can serve a similar function as well). All that means is, in order to offset the lack of physical information we usually get from an IRL conversation, we started using symbolic images and icons.
From eggplants to prayer hands, the meanings of emoji took on a life of their own outside of just what each literally depicts. Some have even made it into IRL vocabulary, because we all know what "heart eyes" means when a friend asks if their outfit is cute.
And for that we're .
To reiterate, while most of the terms we're including in this section were coined decades ago by scholars, we're pointing to their popularization in the mainstream discourse outside of academia during the 2010s.
Inclusivity and intersectionality arrived in a big way on the mainstream stage during the 2018 Academy Awards, and not without some backlash. Much of their history and original meaning was lost in translation of their widespread adoption over the decade, leading some to criticize them as catch-all, meaningless buzzwords that lead to only superficial politically correct checklists.
Many wrongfully believe inclusivity and intersectionality can be used interchangeably.
New terms help give marginalized identities a voice.
Image: bob al-greene / mashable
Intersectionality specifically describes the often overlooked and unique discrimination experienced by people of multiple overlapping marginalized identities, like race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. It enables us to address the subtleties of colorism, or the need for nonbinary and genderqueer versions of Latin identifiers like Latinx, Afro-Latinx, and Chicanx
Inclusivity, on the other hand, is a more broadly applicable framework to ensure spaces and policies take all forms of identities into account to avoid discrimination and oppression. The past decade saw some promising linguistic growth around more widely-accepted inclusive language, with the American Psychological Associations official addition of the singular they/them and Merriam Webster naming the pronoun their Word of the Year in 2019.
Inclusivity allows us to call out TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and bi-erasure, for example, or to encompass a fuller spectrum of gender and sexual identity with a +, as in LGBTQIA+.
Intersectionality, inclusivity, and online activism became the defining components of what some now call fourth-wave feminism. Often associated with the #MeToo, Time's Up, and Women's March movements, it focuses on addressing the systemic power imbalance embedded in issues like sexual harassment, body shaming, slut shaming, and rape culture.
Back in 2011, we could do little more than scoff at the liberal leaderless protest movement that occupied Wall Street for months. Yet by the end of the decade, it's become clear just how effective it was at not only bringing widespread but long-lasting awareness to the movement's core issues.
"We are the 99%.
In 2019 many of the slogans (the 1% and we are the 99%) and concepts (the corrupting force of money in politics and widening income inequality) popularized by Occupy Wall Street continue to take center stage in national conversations like Democratic primary debates.
The Occupy protests evolved and matured beyond their initially more anarchist messines, and now an "eat the rich" and "fuck you pay me" mentality rings out in certain corners of the internet with a regularity we couldn't have predicted nine years ago.
We didn't just rail against the injustices of old establishments throughout the 2010s, though.
While the rest of the country still languished in the consequences of the 2008 recession, Silicon Valley and startup culture saw exponential growth. Another piece of tech speak coined in the 1990s went on to take over in 2010s: disruptive innovation.
Everything from Uber (which beta launched in 2010), tablets (the iPad released in 2010), rise of the cloud (iCloud launched in 2011), the proliferation of smart devices utilizing it (aka the Internet of Things), and various dongles (popularized in 2013) to connect them changed our ways of life.
Disruption, uh, isn't always great
Image: Vicky leta /mashable
The sharing and gig economy took over so rapidly that laws and policies still have yet to catch up in any effective way. Internet privacy concerns finally became unignorable with the cloud, and the seedy underbelly of Big Data profiteering showed itself through Facebook. A framework to ensure people's right to be forgotten is only just starting to emerge.
In 2010, society-shattering tech began to feel more inescapable than inspiring. Its unstoppable influence and power led to a general disillusionment with the utopian ideals the tech industry pedaled about connecting in a digital democracy.
Weve been through a lot over the past ten years. But we made it! And we lacked no ingenuity in the words we used to describe the journey.
- 'GB News reaction shows country totally split - but division is not as bad as it seems' - The Mirror - June 20th, 2021
- The heirs to the ancients - Kathimerini English Edition - June 20th, 2021
- Politics: Nationalism, Then and Now - The Wall Street Journal - June 20th, 2021
- Nobody Tells Jokes Anymore, like They Did When I Was Younger - The Wire - June 20th, 2021
- GB News will flourish if the success of partisan, rightwing TV in Australia is any guide - The Guardian - June 20th, 2021
- How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict Over Critical Race Theory - The New Yorker - June 20th, 2021
- At the state Capitol, an old statue is offensive but not mayhem on nearby streets - Journal Inquirer - June 20th, 2021
- In Summer of 85, Franois Ozon Transcends the Politics of AIDS - National Review - June 20th, 2021
- There is a cover-up underway in America - St. Louis American - June 20th, 2021
- Debate on Critical Race Theory is about future of country - Delaware Gazette - June 20th, 2021
- NYC's Spence School showed video that 'tarred and feathered' white women: ex-trustee - New York Post - June 20th, 2021
- In a time ruled by fear, here are some of mine - Stuff.co.nz - June 20th, 2021
- GB News: the row over the England team taking the knee shows we dont need more anti-woke voices - iNews - June 20th, 2021
- Sen. Rick Brattin's Capitol Report for the Week of May 31: Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project and the Indoctrination of America's Children ... - June 4th, 2021
- Opinion: Massachusetts' 9th Congressional District can do better than Keating - Fall River Herald News - June 4th, 2021
- Race central to Republican strategy for 2022 and beyond - Yahoo News - June 4th, 2021
- The enigma of Thomas Sowell - Washington Examiner - June 4th, 2021
- Blackout Tuesday 2020: One year later, what have companies done for Black lives? - Vox.com - June 4th, 2021
- Journalists are not going to stop tweeting. But should media outlets exert more control over their posts? - The Conversation AU - June 4th, 2021
- The Enemy of the Palestinian People - European Jewish Press - June 4th, 2021
- Dan Crenshaw wants people to blow the whistle on woke ideology in the military and hes getting roasted for it [UPDATED] - Task & Purpose - June 4th, 2021
- "Every time they took me to jail when I got arrested": Charles Barkley jokes about his past misdemeanors with... - The Sportsrush - June 4th, 2021
- Will Homeland Security be Ministry of Truth 2.0? | News, Sports, Jobs - Marquette Mining Journal - June 4th, 2021
- 'It was time for me to move on' - Business Record - June 4th, 2021
- Philly grapples with statues of Frank Rizzo, Christopher Columbus, and more a year after protests - The Philadelphia Inquirer - June 4th, 2021
- How the right-wing is fighting back against 'cancel culture' in the Czech Republic - Euronews - May 11th, 2021
- National Identity Becoming More Inclusive in U.S., UK, France and Germany - Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project - May 11th, 2021
- Sorry, but they're called 'mothers' not 'birthing people' - New York Post - May 11th, 2021
- What is cancel culture? How the concept has evolved to mean very different things to different people. - Vox.com - May 11th, 2021
- The importance of emotional correctness in the media Media News - Media Update - May 11th, 2021
- Dhirubhai Sheth and the Political Incorrectness of Being - The Wire - May 11th, 2021
- Biden the risk-taker and Trump - Kathimerini English Edition - May 11th, 2021
- Changing Hartford's sad image requires changing the city's reality - Journal Inquirer - May 11th, 2021
- Right Thinking: Republicans' corporate support eroding The Journal Record - Journal Record - May 11th, 2021
- War is difficult, when you know the 'enemy' - The Times of Israel - May 11th, 2021
- Spring Town Meeting not all about numbers and budgets - SouthCoastToday.com - May 11th, 2021
- Motherland review: Middle-class parenting comedy doesnt get better than this - The Independent - May 11th, 2021
- Opinion: Wokeness is dead, long live the woke - Houston Chronicle - May 11th, 2021
- Hope Elon Musk kills it on SNL and other commentary - New York Post - May 11th, 2021
- Who is Behind Spain's Anti-Rights Movement? Byline Times - Byline Times - May 11th, 2021
- Limbaugh Life Lesson: Dont Worry About What Other People Think - Rush Limbaugh - May 11th, 2021
- A New Group of Mega-Donors Now Holds Influence Over the GOP Thanks to Trump - Truthout - May 11th, 2021
- Keeping the Republic is Hard Work | Editorial Columnists | dailyadvance.com - The Daily Advance - May 11th, 2021
- UVA lawsuit allowed to proceed over punishment for medical ... - May 3rd, 2021
- Over 50 percent still think diversity and inclusion is 'political correctness' - The HR Director Magazine - May 3rd, 2021
- Political correctness is going to kill comedy - Bainbridge Island Review - May 3rd, 2021
- 'Viewpoint' bill is an assault on Florida higher ed - Sarasota Herald-Tribune - May 3rd, 2021
- 'Entourage' creator: HBO not promoting show due to 'wave of righteous PC culture' | TheHill - The Hill - May 3rd, 2021
- Exclusive Cruz, Rubio ramp up criticisms of big business | TheHill - The Hill - May 3rd, 2021
- Guest column: Targeting Floridas colleges and universities - The Florida Times-Union - May 3rd, 2021
- The Man They Couldnt Cancel - The Wall Street Journal - May 3rd, 2021
- Twists and turns on the road to enlightenment - The Kingston Whig-Standard - May 3rd, 2021
- We need more, not less, critical thinking about race in Australia - The Guardian - May 3rd, 2021
- Young Americans have reason to think gender pronouns matter: Viewpoint - masslive.com - May 3rd, 2021
- Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to decide on bill to ban teaching of critical race theory - Oklahoman.com - May 3rd, 2021
- Local issues on the agenda for minor party candidates across Black Country and Staffordshire - expressandstar.com - May 3rd, 2021
- Letter to the Editor: Columnist's view on Disney World was disappointing - Canton Repository - May 3rd, 2021
- Dr. Kiarina Kordela and the Comrades of the Melancholic Revolution - Dartmouth Review - May 3rd, 2021
- Conservatives claim to hate "cancel culture" but it's the heart of the right-wing agenda - Salon - May 3rd, 2021
- Rise of the British shock jock - Prospect - May 3rd, 2021
- Chaotic Johnson Always Struggled With Rules, and U.K. Voters Love It - Bloomberg - May 3rd, 2021
- Donald Trump Says Political Correctness, Lack of Oscars Host Are Reason Why Ratings Tanked - Newsweek - April 29th, 2021
- BBC woke war erupted over origins of political correctness: Its driving voters right - Express - April 29th, 2021
- More than half of people still think Diversity and Inclusion is just political correctness - HR News - April 29th, 2021
- Chief deputy DA in Vegas writes column criticizing Disney wokeness and spurs Twitter backlash - ABA Journal - April 29th, 2021
- In the Mix: Mark Putnam takes Gen-Xers back to the future with The Fast Times newsletter - Atlanta Intown - April 29th, 2021
- History shows the risks of burdening economies with high taxes GIS Reports - Geopolitical Intelligence Services AG - April 29th, 2021
- Support of Trump within church has driven some Catholics to the exits - National Catholic Reporter - April 29th, 2021
- Thanksgiving With all the Comical Trimmings - Shepherd Express - April 29th, 2021
- Dr. Now, Conservative Hero - Yahoo News - April 29th, 2021
- Opinion | Rufus Woods: When it comes to race, our choice of words and actions matter - wenatcheeworld.com - April 29th, 2021
- Deming: Dumbing down the kids - The Hutchinson News - April 29th, 2021
- City Council members to be addressed with gender neutral terms - Daily Northwestern - April 29th, 2021
- FOXFINDER streamed from New Phoenix Theatre lets us peek over an edge that is both too familiar and too creepy - Buffalo Rising - April 29th, 2021
- Walter and the LPD | Columnists | leader-call.com - leader-call.com - April 29th, 2021
- What will the Mayoral candidates do to tackle the housing crisis? - Southwark News - April 29th, 2021
- Opinion: Bartenders like me offer emotional support to so many. The pandemic took that away. - The San Diego Union-Tribune - April 29th, 2021
- I love Disney World, but wokeness is ruining the experience | Column - Tampa Bay Times - April 27th, 2021
- Educating the Self in School - KMJ Now - April 27th, 2021
- Letter: Putting the Vance Monument in perspective - Mountain Xpress - April 27th, 2021