Game Changer

New Words Added to Merriam-Webster Dictionary: ‘Man Cave,’ ‘Sexting’ and More

Merriam-Webster has updated its collegiate dictionary, and entries like ‘gastropub’ and ‘man cave’ have been added. Merriam-Webster associate editor Kory Stamper explains some of the new definitions that made the cut this year and why they were included.

Charles Krupa / AP Photo

1. man cave n. (1992): a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities.

A very evocative and playful word. One of a handful of terms we've been tracking that talks about "man" culture ("man-purse" and "mancation" are two others that come to mind). The male need for escape was definitely on the public consciousness: in his 1993 book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, Dr. John Gray talks about a man's tendency to "retreat into his cave." Its use has been slowly growing since then and really boomed in the last five years.

2. sexting n. (2007): the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cellphone.

This is a relatively new word to be entered into the dictionary, but it's a huge one. From the moment it appeared on the scene in 2007, it's been the subject of serious discussions about technology, the law, and even cyberbullying. Much of the early discussion focused on teens and sexting, but maybe more adults should have taken notice: in 2011, Anthony Weiner resigned his congressional seat after his own sexting scandal was made public.

3. game changer n. (1993): a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way.

The earliest citation we have from this is about broadcasting, but it soared into the national consciousness during the 2008 election, when Hillary Clinton said that if she won the Democratic primaries in North Carolina and in Indiana, it would be "a game changer" for her. Usage spiked. It seems to be a favorite among politicians. According to Ron Suskind, author of The Price of Loyalty and Confidence Men, it was a favorite phrase of George W. Bush's as well.

4. gastropub n. (1996): a pub, bar, or tavern that also offers meals of high quality.

Originated as a British word, but we adopted it into American English almost immediately. It's very useful, describing a place we hadn't really had a single word for: the upscale pub, even if many writers who have used it have said the word itself sounds like the name of an uncomfortable medical procedure. Gourmet magazine described a gastropub as "a pub that puts at least as much thought into the food it serves as into the beer it dispenses."

5. mashup n. (1859): something created by combining elements from two or more sources: as, a) a piece of music created by digitally overlaying an instrumental track with a vocal track from a different recording, b) a movie or video having characters or situations from other sources, c) a Web service or application that integrates data and functionalities from various online sources.

A word that is much, much older than you'd think: our first written citation for this is from 1859, and refers to someone "speaking a mashup" of languages. "Mashup" stayed pretty undercover until the mid-1990s, when it began to refer to musical mashups (Christine Aguilera and The Strokes in 2001 was one of the more famous ones). Then the Internet came along. At first, "mashup" was used to refer to mingled data on the Web and the apps or services that pull from them. But when the Web became interactive, so did "mashup." Almost immediately, movie trailers were mashed up (Mean Disney Girls), and viral video mashups of broadcasts intercut with movie lines took off (“Cheney is Scarface”). With such a popular boost, the word eventually came full circle and was reintroduced into analog culture. Now we've got mashup books too (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

6. bucket list n. (2006): a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.

Appeared in 2006 after the movie The Bucket List came out. An instant hit, and merged seamlessly into the vernacular. It may feel informal, but it's been used in a wide variety of places, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It's also gaining popularity overseas. We have seen it used in British and Australian papers. Derived from the phrase "kick the bucket."

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7. underwater adj. (1672): having, relating to, or being a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the property securing the loan is worth.

Really took off when the housing bubble burst. There was an earlier sense referring to assets in general that was in use in the early 1990s, but we all became familiar with this term in 2006 and 2007 when homeowners were suddenly shackled to properties that were worth far less than the outstanding mortgage on them. A very visual play on the idea of "staying afloat" and "sinking" financially.

8. cloud computing n. (2006): the practice of storing regularly used computer data on multiple servers that can be accessed through the Internet.

There were a bunch of different names for this: grid computing and utility computing are two earlier ones we have for this phenomenon. In our earliest citation for this, from an announcement about Amazon's cloud computing service, it's called "emergent utility computing space." "Cloud computing" really captured the imagination and became the common name before the technology was even all that common. It's very whimsical and playful.

9. aha moment n. (1939): a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.

"Aha moment" is quite old—our earliest citation is from a 1939 psychology text—but it was used only sporadically for a long time. It didn't really take off until Oprah Winfrey began using it on her show in the 1990s. The phenomenon became so closely tied with Oprah that many think she coined the phrase, and court battles have been fought over the use of "aha moment" in ads.

10. earworm n. (1802) 1: corn earworm 2: a song or melody that keeps repeating in one’s mind.

"Earworm" has been around for quite some time to refer to a pest that burrows into the ears of corn. But in the 1990s, the English word "earworm" gained the meaning "a song or melody that keeps repeating in one's mind." This new meaning really didn't see much use until the mid-2000s, and was picturesquely solidified in our national consciousness in a 2009 essay by Stephen King, wherein he described earworms as "songs that burrow into your head and commence chewing on your brains." The newer sense of "earworm" is actually influenced by the German word for this phenomenon—a word that translates to "earworm."