The Origin of Humblebrag (And Other New Dictionary Words)
According to reports this week, the Oxford English Dictionary has added a handful of “hip” new words to their official collection, including humblebrag, catfish, and YOLO. (The acronym for What Would Jesus Do did not make the cut, but there’s always next year.) The Oxford editors explained that the words “merit a dictionary entry” at this point due to their growing popularity in recent years. My question is, where did all of these words even come from? Phrases like YOLO have seemingly been around since the dawn of time (read: since junior high), but they had to originate somewhere, right?
Humblebrag (n.): an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud
It’s not too often that you find a spoof Twitter handle influencing the English language but that’s exactly what happened with “humblebrag.” In 2010, comedian Harris Wittels jokingly made a Twitter handle dedicated to calling out “humblebraggers,” or, people who publicly downplay an impressive accomplishment in order to get attention. Though the Parks and Rec writer abandoned the account a few years ago, his word lives on in our hearts and now, our dictionaries.
YOLO (abbr.): you only live once
Don’t let his litigious Instagram messages fool you: Drake did not invent YOLO, nor does he have any legal claim to the term. The “battle cry of a generation” first appeared in 1993, when a clothing company tried to trademark the phrase for its line of sweatshirts and hats. (“Our sweatshirts may cost more than your first car payment, but remember: you only live once.”) If we want to get really technical, though, the first use of YOLO actually dates back to the 1700s. In his famed novel Clarissa, Samuel Richardson wrote: “And it teaches me to be covetous of time; the only thing of which we can be allowably covetous; since we live but once in this world; and when gone, are gone from it for ever.” Sorry, Drake.
Mansplain (v.): explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing
Typically used by men who think they were born with a complete knowledge of the universe, mansplain is just a more succinct way of saying “I like to speak down to women.” Rebecca Solnit knew this well when she invented the idea in her 2008 article “Men Explain Things To Me.” (The article describes a time when a guy tried to explain her own book to her.) Though Solnit never explicitly mentioned the word in her write-up, her idea made waves in the feminist blogosphere and, thanks to a few creative LiveJournal commenters, the word “mansplain” was born.
Catfish (v.): to lure (someone) into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona
Most of you probably already know this one, either because you’ve experienced it firsthand or you’ve posed as a fish on OKCupid to lure in unsuspecting anglers. In his 2010 documentary of the same name, photographer Nev Schulman documents his budding relationship with a woman he meets online, only to discover that she has been lying about her identity. The film ends with the following quote, which sparked a rise in the use of the term:
Hot mess (n.): a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered
Though “hot mess” started as a literal term for dinner (“Anyone want some hot mess?”), it has since evolved into a word for “a person in a state of disarray” thanks to designer Christian Siriano who began using the term on Project Runway in 2007.
Vape (v.): to smoke e-cigarettes
Weirdly enough, vape’s definition preceded the invention of the e-cigarette. In 1983, author Rob Stepney released an article titled “Why Do People Smoke” in which he conceptualized “an inhaler or non-combustible cigarette” that would release nicotine vapor and, “if it catches on, would be known as vaping.” The word has caught on recently due to the rise in electronic cigarette sales, despite how uncomfortable the term has made people.
Which new word in the Oxford Dictionary do you fancy? Find the whole list here.
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