As humans become further entrenched in the shared language of the internet, which may or may not be breaking our brains, the speed at which we create and subsequently kill trends will only increase. This is as true of language as it is of memes and tiny sunglasses. But that high turnover also means that what persists stands out—for better or for worse.
So in observance of the end of the 2010s, I’ve broken down 13 of the trendiest, most enduring terms of the decade and decided which ought to stay in the past, which are safe to journey forth, and which should proceed with caution. Please review then add your own submissions below. I’ll be standing by with tender judgement in my heart.
1. Selfie (sel-fē)
A picture of yourself taken by yourself.
Did you see that she posted another selfie with the dog-ear filter? What is this, 2017?
The rise of the “selfie,” Oxford’s word of the year in 2013, was emblematic of a culture obsessed with navel-gazing and self-commodification online. But as time has worn on and we’ve all given up on being humble on the internet, distinguishing between a photo that was taken by you or someone else kind of feels like a doctor’s form asking for your “cell phone” and your “home phone.” It’s a distinction without a difference. Plus, the word is developing a bit of a cultural patina—brands and boomers say it! (The kiss of death.) (Love you, mom.) For that reason, “selfie” is being issued a stern warning—to be employed in the 20s only when absolutely necessary (i.e. “Should we ask someone else to take this or just do a selfie?”).
2. Lol (el-ō-el)
Originally an acronym for “laughing out loud,” today a short-form acknowledgement that something is funny or unserious.
New job is okay but I literally look like Willy Wonka in my new uniform lol
It’s a tale as old as the internet: First something is introduced earnestly, then it’s made fun of, then its used ironically, and finally its used so frequently the irony is lost and this is just who we are now. This applies to things like chunky sneakers, Bhad Bhabie, and of course, “lol.” Despite its rocky reception over the course of the aughts, this acronym, along with its counterpart “lmao,” is so deeply ingrained in our cultural lexicon you can’t help but accept it.
Verdict: Safe lol
3. Self-care (self-ˈker)
All behaviors associated with taking care of one’s self.
I told my therapist I was investing in rare Korean sheet masks as a form of self-care and she laughed at me. Is that allowed?
The self-care movement was born with good intentions. It just wanted us to take care of ourselves instead of crumble under the pressure of modern workloads and sociopolitical instability! But thanks to America’s rugged* brand of capitalism, it soon transformed into a sales pitch for $180-dollar serums and funky orange wines sipped in bathtubs. As a result this term is being issued a big, moist warning par moi, because until popular culture learns the actual definition of self-care, it will continue to represent a money pit and/or alibi for self-indulgence.
Verdict: Cold-pressed warning with a shot of hot water with lemon
4. Yolo (yō-lō)
Acronym for “you only live once.”
Did you see that dad bought a mug from Target that says “yolo so pour me another cup”? Lol…
Sorry Drake, but this word is over. It wasn’t your fault. It was all of our faults.
5. Bae (bā)
Acronym for “before anyone else”
Bae’s been annoying me lately, think I’m ready for a new snack.
Like many slang words, bae originated in the black community before being appropriated by white people and quickly ruined with poor- and over-use. For this reason I’m issuing it a warning—to be used freely by anyone who feels ownership over it and only as an acronym for “bacon and eggs” by everyone else.
6. I made a thing (ī-mād-ā-thiŋ)
An expression exclusively employed online to announce projects in a self-deprecating manner.
Sooooooo I made a thing. It’s dumb, but I love it. Feel free to check it out or donate to my Patreon. Thanks! Gonna go cry now.
Respectfully, “I made a thing” can perish in Dante’s inferno for eternity. As can its cousins, “I did a thing,” and “I’m doing a thing.” I’ll withhold judgement of those still using these expressions, but I’d be doing us all a disservice if I didn’t forcefully deny their entry into the 2020s. They may have been charming in their (likely) inception on Tumblr in the early 2010s, but they’ve become blaring signals for false internet humility and any further use of them shall be considered a faux pas. If you worked on something and want to share it, own it! Name it! I will check it out!
Verdict: Rejected forever
7. Thirst (thərst)
Any form of desperation, often but not always sexual in nature, often but not always expressed online.
I literally can’t handle his thirst levels I’m about to block!!!
Thirst is so good at communicating something specific—in this case, the multiplicities of online horniness—that you simply cannot reject its entry into the 2020s without sacrificing something important. It also remains mostly unmarred by B&B (brands and boomers), which is why it gets a yes from me.
8. Squad (skwäd)
A tight-knit group of friends that supposedly enjoys each other’s company.
I heard Bhad Bhabie is the newest member of Taylor Swift’s squad.
Although squad may have enjoyed an uncontroversial rise in the hip hop community, as soon as it became the calling card of Taylor Swift, culminating in a 2015 music video wherein all her famous best friends help her defeat an unknowable force using lots of fire and guns, the magic was lost. The term was quickly co-opted by a specific brand of competitive girl (we do ultimately blame the patriarchy) and weaponized to exclude rather than bond, therefore we have no choice but to reject.
Verdict: Rejected for making some people feel good and everyone else feel like shit
9. Ping (piŋ)
A message sent or requested in the workplace.
Going on PTO for the foreseeable future, ping me when I’m dead.
One question: WHY PING??? With loose roots in the IT world and an unconvincing case of onomatopoeia, ping is an unnecessarily jargony stand-in for more specific language, such as “email,” “slack,” or “message.” For the simple reason of unworthy popularity, ping need not join us this coming December 31st as we journey into 2020.
Verdict: Hi just quickly pinging you to let you know this is rejected
10. FOMO (fō-mō)
Acronym for “fear of missing out.”
As an extroverted introvert, the thought of skipping the event gives me FOMO, but the thought of staying home gives me JOMO. What to do????????
When FOMO was first popularized in the early 2010s, I was in awe of its emotional specificity. I kind of still am! There doesn’t currently exist a more efficient way to express the anxiety of everyone having fun without you. That said, the term has on occasion tipped into the realm of overuse—being frequently brandished in advertisements and even inspiring a counter-acronym known as JOMO, which is certainly clever but doesn’t communicate anything different from the over-extended introversion narrative that’s been thriving on Tumblr since the aughts.
Verdict: Warned—necessary until we find a replacement
11. Basic (bāsik)
A derogatory term for someone or something with unexamined or mainstream tastes.
At first I thought she was basic because of her earnest Instagram bio but ultimately she proved me wrong.
Basic went through many lives over the course of the 2010s—from an insult to a joke to a badge of pride back to an insult—which is probably why it’s feeling so tired at this point. I do appreciate its particularity though (how else can you describe a needlepoint pillow that says #GirlBoss?), so its skating by with a warning for occasional necessity. With hope it will die quietly in the 2020s.
12. Personal brand (pərs-nəl-brand)
Human marketing; the oversimplified image or story as projected by someone’s online (and occasionally real-life) presence.
I do like her but her entire personal brand is evangelizing the convenience of jumpsuits.
This term helpfully communicates the way social media has inspired us to treat ourselves as uncomplicated commodities. But it’s traversed a tricky evolution in that it’s become so assimilated into how we perceive other people that we’ve forgotten how insidious it is. So in the hope that we’ll embrace people for their complexity in 2020s, “personal brand” gets a warning, ideally reserved for ironic use, as in, “that video of a horrifying millipede’s cute shadow is my personal brand.”
Lucky 13. 😂
The emoji for crying-laughing.
Anyone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YDpvMYk5jA Me: 😂
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Oxford’s controversial (pronounced, in this case, contra-ver-see-al) word of the year in 2015: 😂—apparently the most-used emoji that year globally. This emoji holds a special place in my heart for similar reasons to lol; its gone from cheesy to ironic to stupid-in-a-good-way. With its ability to communicate laughter of the mild, hysterical, and the-world-is-ending cynical variety, it’s the perfect expression to carry us into the 20s.
Graphics by Lorenza Centi.