Mind your language: 2013's words of the year

New terms entered common parlance with exuberant frequency this year. But what the most popular ones tell us about ourselves is not especially flattering

Miley Cyrus really worked her butt off this year and her efforts were at last recognised, albeit in unlikely quarters. Both the Collins and Oxford English dictionaries have shortlisted “twerking” – a term popularised almost single-handedly (or double-cheekedly?) by the 21-year-old singer – as one of 2013’s Words of the Year.

Created by members of the New Orleans bounce music scene during the 1990s, twerking (see definitions, below) was inflicted on a mass audience by Ms Cyrus this summer at the MTV Awards, where she controversially buffed her behind on the crotch of alleged sexist Robin Thicke. It was not, however, the word of the year.

For Collins, the overall winner was “geek”, a familiar classic freshly redefined. Where once the word denoted a loser, dork, dweeb or nerd, it now, Collins claims, means simply “a person who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject”. For instance: a food geek, a fashion geek, a football geek, a Game of Thrones geek.

The OED’s overall word of the year, meanwhile, was “selfie”: a self-portrait, specifically one snapped at arm’s length using a smartphone and then posted to social media. The practice became so popular in 2013 that Ms Cyrus’s chum Justin Bieber invested in a smartphone app, Shots Of Me, designed solely for the taking and sharing of selfies.

The only word besides “twerk” to make it on to both shortlists was “Bitcoin”, the burgeoning virtual currency, which – along with “selfie”,  “geek” and “phablet” – serves to highlight the centrality of technology to new language. Next year, such lists may feasibly include “Glass”, as in Google Glass, the search giant’s hi-tech specs, which are due to be available to consumers in 2014 and which have earned their early adopters one of this year’s finer insults: “Glasshole”.

Social media also has a crucial role to play in the measurement of the most used words. The OED’s method for making its list involves software designed to scan new web content for new and emerging words, which inevitably skews the choices towards tech terminology. The Oxford team noted that its new verb. “binge-watch”, had “been used in the circles of television fandom since the late 1990s, but... has come into its own with the advent of on-demand viewing and online streaming. In 2013, binge-watching got a boost when Netflix released episodes of its serial programming all at once.”

Another television viewing term to watch out for in 2014 would be “hate-watch”, which means tuning in to a particular show purely in order to slag if off on Twitter.

By this time next year you might plausibly tweet, for example, the following: “Binge-hate-watching Homeland on my phablet #TVgeek.”

A tale of two dictionaries: the words according to the Collins and Oxford dictionaries


Word of the year, 2013

  • geek - a person who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject


  • twerking: moving the hips up and down as part an erotically suggestive dance. A blend of “twist” and “jerk”
  • bitcoin: a digital currency  exchanged by users of the internet
  • phablet: a hand-held computer that is larger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet computer
  • Plebgate: a public scandal in which cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell is alleged to have insulted police on duty in Downing Street by calling them “plebs”
  • fracker: a person or organisation involved in the extraction of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing
  • cybernat: a supporter of Scottish independence who is active on online forums
  • thigh gap: a gap between the top of the legs when a person stands with the feet together
  • olinguito: an animal of the raccoon family, living in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador
  • Black Friday: the day after the US holiday of Thanksgiving, considered by retailers as the start of the Christmas shopping season
  • payday lending: the practice  of making short-term loans to people who are expected to repay them from their future earnings
  • Harlem Shake: an internet craze in which people perform a comic sketch involving wild dancing


Word of the year, 2013

  • selfie: a photograph that one  has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website


  • bedroom tax: a reduction in the amount of housing benefit paid to a claimant if the property they are renting is judged to have more bedrooms than is necessary for the number of the people in the household, according to criteria set down by the government
  • binge-watch: to watch  multiple episodes of a  television programme in  rapid succession, typically  by means of DVDs or digital streaming
  • bitcoin: a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need  for a central bank
  • olinguito: a small furry mammal found in mountain forests in Colombia and Ecuador, the smallest member of the raccoon family
  • schmeat: a form of meat produced synthetically from biological tissue
  • showrooming: the practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price
  • twerk: dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance. (Origin: 1990s; probably an alteration of “work”.)
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning


Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities