Oxford announced this week that the word of the year is “vape,” a verb meaning “to inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device.” The word triumphed over other worthy contenders, including "slacktivist," "normcore," and the classic term of endearment, “bae," a noun and a personal favorite.
So, why did "vape," a word that now officially represents the zeitgeist, emerge victorious? It was first coined in the 1980s when companies began to explore “smokeless” cigarettes. But, according to The Wall Street Journal, the usage of "vape" has more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, which is no surprise considering the use of e-cigarettes ballooned almost as fast. It’s estimated that e-ciggarette sales will reach $1.5 billion this year.
Vaping is not without controversy. Earlier this year, the American Heart Association argued that e-cigarettes could serve as gateway drugs and “could re-normalize smoking in our society.” And, the only e-cigarettes currently regulated by the FDA are marketed for therapeutic purposes, meaning most of the e-smokes you can buy in stores are going unchecked. And, since e-cigarettes have yet to be fully studied, their long-term effects are unknown.
Considering the cultural significance of the word, this year’s selection feels much more serious than last year’s winner, “selfie.” Casper Grathwohl, the president of Oxford’s dictionaries division, told TIME, “A word is just the surface of something that often has a really complex and rich life underneath.” Which may or may not explain why "bae" lost and the importance of "vape" couldn’t be ignored...
Perhaps, if we’re lucky, this year’s winner will follow in the footsteps of "selfie" — we may soon see a TV show titled Vape, too.