The Word of the Year Is a Total Drag

The Oxford English Dictionary has chosen "vape" for 2014. Not everyone's thrilled.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

The Oxford English Dictionary selected "vape" as its word of the year this year. If you're not sure what "vape" means, don't feel bad. I didn't, either, and I deal with words for a living.

The dictionary defines "vape" as a verb meaning "to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device." Added in August, "vape" is a utilitarian noun brought about by new technology.

"A gap emerged in the lexicon, as a word was needed to describe this activity, and distinguish it from 'smoking,'" said the dictionary in a statement. "The word vape arose to fill this gap, and it has proliferated along with the habit."

An unscientific scan of Twitter seemed to indicate that "vape" wasn't especially popular.

several contenders for the prize. Some of these are zeitgeisty portmanteaus like "budtender," referring to a marijuana dispenser, and "slacktivism," a noun to describe those who dive into causes from the comfort of their couch. There's also "normcore," an ironic fashion movement in which people wear distinctly unfashionable clothing.

Which of these words will still be in use in 10 years? Glimpses at past winners provide a clue.  Some of the words, like "podcast" (2005) and "carbon-neutral" (2006) seem firmly entrenched in our lexicon. Others have had less staying power. When was the last time, for example, you heard anyone say "hypermiling," the 2008 winner?

The endurance of "vape" may depend on the durability of e-cigarettes themselves. Sales of the cylindrical nicotine-machines doubled in 2013 to $1.7 billion, but slipped in May as users went back to traditional cigarettes.