7 better choices for Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

The word career in a dictionary

Flazingo Photos/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Culture? Nope, that’s garbage. These are the most important words of 2014.

Yesterday, Merriam-Webster embarrassed themselves by selecting “culture,” a stodgy old noun by all accounts, as the official word of 2014. They say the winner is determined by the site’s search data, an excuse we heartily reject. 

Much as we hate the choice, however, it’s only slightly worse than Dictionary.com’s “exposure” and the Oxford Dictionaries’ “vape.” Where have all the good words gone? Oh, they’re around, but you’d have to hack into a teenager’s smartphone to find them. To save you the trouble, we humbly offer these few alternatives, any one of which would succinctly sum up these last long dozen months. Expect a vocab quiz tomorrow.

Garbage

You probably noticed that this year was bad, i.e., garbage. Chuck Johnson and Rolling Stone gave us garbage journalism. Justin Bieber and Donald Trump hit us with garbage tweets galore. The midterm elections were choked with garbage candidates and garbage referenda. Even the stuff you couldn’t get enough of—fanboy rumors about Marvel movies, screenshots of man-children throwing tantrums on Tinder when their negs didn’t work—were meaningless, disposable, and soon forgotten. What a dump!    

Challenge

For some reason, everything took the form of an ill-advised competition this year. The ice-bucket challenge, theoretically meant to raise awareness of and money to fight the neurodegenerative disease ALS, ended poorly for many. A stoner came up with the ice bong challenge. There were cookie-face, scrotum-grabbing, pass-out, daredevil-drinking, and hot-water challenges. Best or worst of all, teens started setting themselves on fire, purely because they’d been challenged. The challenge for 2015 will be learning to think for yourself again.

Nope

The only appropriate response to garbage, challenges, and nauseating skyscraper selfies alike, “nope” is a catch-all word that means “I am going to close my eyes to the reality of what I read and try to move on with my life as if everything were totally fine.” 

Rarely have we needed it more than in the wake of the grand jury decisions regarding Michael Brown and Eric Garner, or while watching Dick Cheney argue that torture is a moral good. The period is optional but lends an ideal emphasis. 

Leak

Not long ago, the theft and dissemination of private data would have been thought of as a “hack.” Now, often as not, the deliberate pilfering of Jennifer Lawrence’s nudes or Target customers’ credit card numbers or Sony’s embarrassing corporate emails is considered as natural as a drunk commuter pissing into a Penn Station urinal and getting most of it on his slacks. 

Nobody’s really responsible, the entire Internet reaps the spoils, and we pretend that somewhere, someone is sticking their finger in a dyke to prevent it from happening again.

(Sorry, this embed was not found.)

Fleek

This list wouldn’t be complete without a term that Caucasians appropriated from black people and ruined within the space of a week. To be “on fleek” is to be “on point” or “on game,” and you can definitely stop saying it now, Dad. Runner-up in this category: “Bye Felicia.”

Butts

With big-butted icons like Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, and Jen Selter leaving their assprints all over the digital consciousness this year—and many celebrating a supposed renaissance of anilingus that may have gotten a boost from Derek Jeter himself—it’s tempting to declare 2014 the Year of the Booty. That’s not quite right, however. While rear ends were bared everywhere, it was just as likely to be a cheeky display as an overtly sexual one, so we need a classically sophomoric synonym. The plural form, no less. (There were a lot of butts.)

Why

In the end, 2014 left us with questions. Why do angry men keep going on shooting sprees? Why hasn’t every state legalized recreational weed like Colorado did? Why is it so damn hard to find a missing airplane? 

All these queries and hundreds more that nobody asked were not-really-answered by a cascade of hot takes bearing headlines designed to ensnare the Google searcher given to childish constructions: “Why [X] matters,” “Why [X] won’t actually happen,” “Why everyone is wrong about [X].” Why did we put up with this discourse between casual ignorance and overexplanation? Why don’t you tell me.

Update 2:56pm ET, Dec. 16: Dang, we totally forgot about thirsty randos. Also “dang.”

Photo by Flazingo Photos/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Miles Klee

Miles Klee

Miles Klee is a novelist and web culture reporter. The former editor of the Daily Dot’s Unclick section, Klee’s essays, satire, and fiction have appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, Vanity Fair, 3:AM, Salon, the Awl, the New York Observer, the Millions,  and the Village Voice. He's the author of two odd books of fiction, 'Ivyland' and 'True False.'