Word of the Year 2014: shortlist

Choosing the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a task that begins almost as soon as the previous year’s word is announced. In 2013 the choice was selfie, and as soon as 2014 began, Oxford Dictionaries staff started collecting words that might come to prominence throughout the year.

Some words had moments in the sun and quickly disappeared; others got as far as the shortlist but no further. You can read about the actual choice, vape, in our announcement post – but what about the shortlisted words? We explore six other words that were significant in 2014, but didn’t quite make it as Word of the Year…


Used as a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner, this term probably has more currency in the USA than it does in UK, unless you happen to be the parent of teenagers or a teenager yourself. Its origins are in African-American English, and it has proliferated through use on social media and in lyrics in hip-hop and R&B music.


Those of us in the UK might also be less familiar with this word. While the use and sale of cannabis remains illegal under US federal law, in recent years a number of states have begun to legalize both medicinal and recreational use. These changes in the law have led to changes in the lexicon, leading to the emergence of budtender in US English meaning “a person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop”.


Lest it be thought that it is only clueless Brits who might struggle with some of the words on the shortlist, this is an example of one which has plenty of currency here, but might be a little less familiar elsewhere.  For those unfamiliar with it, it could seem like a word describing being in a place with no mobile phone reception or internet access. Or perhaps even a person who has left their mobile phone at home, and so are uncontactable? But it is (at least not yet) neither of these things. Rather it describes technologies that allow a smart card, mobile phone, etc. to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader, usually to make some kind of payment. It’s not just the technology involved which makes this word interesting – linguistically it is something of a misnomer, as of course contact is being made.


It was inevitable that vocabulary around the subject of the Scottish independence referendum would make its mark on the lexicon, and word watchers would not have been disappointed. We saw increased use of both devo-max (referring to extra fiscal powers which could be given to Scotland rather than full independence) and cybernat (an online supporter of Scottish independence). Neither term is new to 2014, but regardless of the result of the referendum, both are words which seem likely to persist. Indyref refers in an abbreviated form to the event itself, and appeared originally (and probably most commonly) as a hashtag on Twitter. As the referendum is now in the past, indyref is, perhaps, less likely to persist in contexts other than those referring back to the event – unless, of course, another referendum is held in the future. But it signals the increased impact that social media is having on our language, as brevity becomes paramount on platforms with message length restrictions.


-core (from hardcore) has been a remarkably productive suffix for decades, most commonly being used to christen a new extreme or intense music style. More recently it has become semantically diluted so that it means something akin to “non-mainstream”, and has broken away from music to embrace film (think mumblecore). This trend has continued and is exemplified by one of the words on our shortlist. Although examples of its use can be found as far back as 2009, 2014 is the year that normcore shot into the popular consciousness. Referring to a trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement, normcore has already been declared “over” by fashion blogs and magazines. However, language doesn’t tend to work quite as quickly, and therefore normcore the word still remains very much alive in the vocabulary of English.


2014 is arguably the year of slacktivism or at least the year in which it entered the mainstream; the word is a combination of slack and activism. There can’t be many of us who haven’t had some contact with the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’, the ‘no makeup selfie’, or the hashtag ‘Bring our girls back’ (to give three examples). The word itself has its origins in the early 21st century, and was included in OxfordDictionaries.com in August 2014, where it is defined as “actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website”. Perhaps as exists a little with selfie, there is a disaffection with the role that social media plays in our lives (and the apparent self-publicizing that goes along with it), which is why there is hint of negativity in the use of the word.

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