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22 words that defined 2022

From a term for interlinked disasters to a new way of talking about the brave new digital generation, this is the Lounge list of 22 words that capture the essence of 2022

Sharent, community, covirgin, benching and edgelord are some of the other words on this list.
Sharent, community, covirgin, benching and edgelord are some of the other words on this list. (Rohit Goyal/Mint)

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Every year has its words: new ones introduced to popular lexicon, or old ones that perfectly fit the cultural moment. This is our list of 22 words that defined 2022, ranging from a term for interlinked disasters and a new way of talking about the brave new digital generation to everyone’s favourite post-pandemic self-description

Edgelord: This is a word that doesn’t really need a definition —a persona will suffice. Beautiful in its sparing, neat evocativeness, edgelord is one of those terms that seem to have been coined to describe a moment in history—in this case, the reign of post-Twitter acquisition Elon Musk—but has actually existed for a while. Ever since he’s bought the company, Musk has been acting out in ways that range from plain strange (a poll asking if he should resign as Twitter CEO) to reactionary (banning journalists who covered him aggressively), all of which has the air of a petulant teen throwing himself the most expensive pity party imaginable. An edgelord, always referred to with a slight sneer on Reddit threads, is a “pretentious poseur who tries to impress or shock by posting edgy opinions”, a wannabe nihilist who is only brave enough to express his bizarre thoughts online, usually under an anonymous handle. In 2022, the term embodies the hollow tech-bro swagger, the “move fast and break things” attitude, and a certain brand of vicious man-childness that has reached its peak in Musk’s persona—for a brilliant fictionalised depiction, watch the Miles Bron character in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. — Shrabonti Bagchi

Goblin mode: The origins of goblin mode are murky and complicated—the term technically dates back to 2009 but saw a sudden revival this year, followed by immediate, enthusiastic adoption, thanks to a tweet referencing a fake headline from a Bollywood gossip site. The Oxford word of the year, which describes “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”, seems to have struck at the core of the anxieties of our post-pandemic existence, when we have had to emerge, often reluctantly, from the default goblin mode of the past two years spent eating banana bread in bed while watching everything on Netflix. If there is a yearning for going goblin mode for the rest of our days, can we really blame ourselves? — Shrabonti Bagchi

Nepo baby: As neologisms go, nepo baby—short for nepotism baby—couldn’t be clearer in its meaning; it simply describes a celebrity who has had a leg up in life thanks to famous parents. Though the term has been around on Twitter and TikTok all year, it exploded again very recently as New York magazine revealed its “How A Nepo Baby Is Born” cover. “Hollywood has always loved the children of famous people. In 2022, the internet reduced them to two little words,” the magazine said about the article by Nate Jones, featuring fantastic graphics showing the intricate web of family relationships that form the backbone of Hollywood. It got a bit ridiculous after that—Twitter users started calling everyone, from actor Andrew Garfield (ostensibly related to the cartoon cat Garfield) to Jesus a nepo baby—and the magazine gleefully amplified all the hate and love. One hopes the examination of nepo babies isn’t over—a Bollywood edition is sorely needed, though out here we just call nepo babies “actors”. — Shrabonti Bagchi

Wagmi: Short for “We’re all gonna make it”, WAGMI was the rallying cry of crypto bros that flooded my Twitter timeline for the better part of this year. At least until major crashes and clashes in the sector doused their collective ambition of growing filthy rich at warp speed. What started as the crypto frat house’s entry password is now reduced to an expression of “false hopium” that is believed to have encouraged some of the irresponsible behaviour that contributed to the collapse of a few crypto exchanges this year. Incidentally, the frat boys loved to throw another bit of related slang, NGMI—short for Not Gonna Make It—to mock people who weren’t gung ho about cryptocurrency. Quite unclear who’s not going to make it now. — Shephali Bhatt

Open AI: 2022 was, without a doubt, the year that AI became open for all. Dall.E, an AI-based image generator, emerged as a Da Vinci on demand, allowing us to type in any prompt while the Artificial Intelligence would paint that picture for us to download. Anything from “an oil pastel drawing of an annoyed cat in a spaceship” to “a hand palm with a tree growing on top of it”. Then came ChatGPT, an AI-generated text chatbot, that entertained and enthralled internet users with its detailed answers to any queries. Selfie enthusiasts also dabbled in Lensa, an image editing tool that uses AI to enhance our pictures, making us look like characters from a sci-fi film or a fairy tale or a nightmare. Incidentally, Dall.E and ChatGPT belong to OpenAI, a company that has been smart about choosing a generic name for itself, perhaps in a bid to create brand recall in a fledgling industry. Even as more tech companies announce AI ventures, concerns over the reliability and impact of AI’s shiny new toys have surfaced and will likely have a larger bearing on this space soon. — Shephali Bhatt

Platformed: In a year that saw multiple sexual predators in the media and entertainment industries making a comeback, platformed became the preferred verb that the internet used to hold their enablers (usually the producers or broadcasters of shows or movies they appeared in) accountable for their complicity in furthering a culture that encourages sexual harassment at the workplace. On social media, every instance of hyping someone or showing support for their work or words is looked at as an act of platforming them—for you are providing them a platform to be seen by your audience. The term is also used in contexts where you are making a conscious effort to bring diversity to your workplace or highlight the stories of minority or oppressed voices through your work. When Twitter suspended the accounts of popular personalities like Donald Trump, Kanye West or Kangana Ranaut, it was described as them being “deplatformed”. — Shephali Bhatt

Screenager: I first came across the word earlier this year, in a 2020 marketing research report, Understanding Gen Alpha, by Australia-based sociological and generational researchers Mark McCrindle and Ashley Fell. It was one of the terms used to define Gen Alpha, or those born 2010 onwards. Though the term took me by surprise, the moment I read it, it seemed like an appropriate description for this generation. The most technologically immersed demographic ever, these teenagers and young adults seem to have been born with a screen as a natural extension of their physical being. “It’s a world of ‘Screenagers’, where not only do they multi-screen and multi-task, but glass has become the new medium for content dissemination. For Gen Alpha, glass is a medium they touch, talk to, and look at,” writes Fell in the report. This year, though, the word seemed to have stepped out of market surveys and slipped into everyday parlance—as parents, teachers and counsellors used it freely in discussions about the impact of the pandemic on Gen Alpha. In a world where the screen has become the single most important source of entertainment, communication and education, this term is only going to gain further traction in coming years. — Avantika Bhuyan

-core: We live in a world of hyper-niche fashion trends, powered by social media. Each of these hard-to-explain styles get their five minutes of fame after getting attached to a four-letter suffix, “core”. Cottagecore, bubblegumbitchcore, gnomecore, ranicore, Barbiecore, Regencycore.... -core entered the urban fashion dictionary about a decade ago with normcore, a style that celebrated dressing down and simple to fit in instead of stand out. Over the years, though, the term has been so overused that it has strayed far from its original meaning. This year, especially, fashion brands realised the virality of -core and flooded us with mass-produced collections with little shelf-life but a lot of Instagram presence. The media helped, writing more on #xyzcores to ride the SEO wave. #core has now become a social media movement that only serves just one purpose—to encourage our insatiable need for consumption. Don’t be surprised if #anythingcore starts trending in the year ahead. — Pooja Singh

Community: A baffling trend I noticed this year is restaurants behaving like hosts of Facebook groups. They organised events—from book launches to yoga workshops—with the aim of building “community”. Food seemed almost incidental to the activities. The core (there’s that word, but used the right way) idea is to bring together people with shared interests to earn customer loyalty over time. The term ‘community’ has been a social media buzzword for years—consider it the marketing equivalent of “your vibe attracts your tribe”— but in 2022, it seemed to really take off, being used by everyone from chefs and writers to marketers and CXOs. Writers on Substack have subscriber communities with exclusive access, non-profits, chefs and designers are building communities that will support them and their ideas, content creators moved to closed communities on Discord. It’s their version of playing the long game, with the ultimate aim being to gain engaged “users” who eventually spend money on the products and services they are selling. A brand-driven community that balances a sense of belonging with business will be the way to go in 2023 and beyond. So, choose your communities wisely. — Jahnabee Borah

Booktok: Like most origin stories in our social media-driven lives, typos and hashtags that become part of leetspeak also seep into our daily lives IRL, becoming representative of a certain cultural shift (think “pwned” in the early internet years). A great recent example is BookTok, which originated on TikTok. It was around the time that the short video app was banned in India in 2020 that BookTok, a hashtag used for books-related content and the community of books-related content creators, started gaining traction. A convenient pun on “book talk” and TikTok, the hashtag became popular worldwide during the pandemic and slid into Instagram’s Reels too. In 2022, when bookstores were reopening nervously after a tough two years of lockdowns, they were in for a surprise. Gen Z customers walked in, looking for what they had seen hashtagged #BookTok. Mayi Gowda of Bengaluru’s independent Blossom Book House says BookTok played a big role in the 2022 resurgence of brick-and-mortar book stores, bringing in a demographic that many had dismissed pre-pandemic as non-readers. Here’s to more BookTok in 2023! — Vangmayi Parakala

Sharent: In June this year, a new word got added to the Oxford English Dictionary: sharenting. It’s the act or practice of sharing news, images or videos of one’s children on social media websites. Giving the screenager stiff competition is the sharent, who stays glued to social media 24x7, sharing every teeny bit of information about their child’s life. They will take you through the many steps of potty training in detail, including the colour of the stool, the image of the soiled diaper…you get the drift. It’s too much information really, and their social media handles are a minute-by-minute documentation of how their child—be it a toddler, teen or young adult—eats, breathes, plays and sleeps. The idea is not to brag; it’s an overzealous need to talk about their child’s lives, and their own parenting style—though the child’s right to privacy isn’t always considered. As an article this month in The Wall Street Journal observes: “How, some people are asking, will my 21-year-old daughter feel one day about what I’m sharing now? But what has gotten little attention is how sharenting also should raise concerns about their children’s future online security.” In fact, a report by Barclays Bank states that by 2030, with parents wilfully sharing too much information about their children on social media, there could be 7.4 million identity theft cases a year. Next year, perhaps, instead of being a sharent, try being a fairent, and think about what would be fair to your child when they are independent adults. Wait for it, fairent just might become a word in 2023—and you would have heard it here first! — Avantika Bhuyan

Illustration by Ashish Asthana.
Illustration by Ashish Asthana.

Situationship: What do you get when two people find themselves in something which is more than a friendship, less than a relationship, but with just the right amount of everything else—romance, sex and companionship? The answer is a situationship. It’s poorly defined yet oddly specific, wonderfully intense yet relaxed and casual, dopamine-rush-inducing yet anxiety-causing, life-altering yet free-ingly flexible…everything you would go through in a committed relationship without the commitment. And no, you never have the “what are we?” talk to work out how to take it forward—or dial it back. Dating experts are now dishing out tips on how to be in a situationship without losing your mind and even how to figure out whether you are in one! In fact, Tinder’s 2022 Year in Swipe showed that 1 in 10 singles preferred situationships. Now that’s a clear yet vague relationship goal. — Nitin Sreedhar

Gaslighting: Yes, we have used it plenty of times before 2022—for that odious partner, that bad manager or that friend who somehow always made the friendship about them. This year, the word, derived from the 1938 British theatre play Gas Light, became the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s word of the year to describe the emotional abuse of manipulating someone to the point that they begin questioning their sanity, their version of reality. It’s a word we are going to keep using, and our advice for you remains the same: If someone tells you a few too many times that you are “too sensitive” or “very emotional” or, worse, “it’s all in your head”, just drop them and run. Or, if you have the means, make a Netflix series about it, à la Prince Harry, who recently said that Buckingham Palace participated in “institutional gaslighting” when it came to him, his wife, Meghan Markle, and his mother, the late Princess Diana. — Preeti Zachariah

Benching: You know that person who is always busy? The one who texts you intermittently at odd hours, disappears for days, makes random last-minute plans and doesn’t think twice about flaking on you? We used to call him the “blow hot, blow cold” guy and realised, after a few painful months with him, that he was bad news, terrible for your mental health and had multiple partners on standby, without having the decency to just declare himself polyamorous. And yes, we are saying “he” because they are most likely to be male, though, to be fair, women and even some not-so-good friends do this too. Come 2022, and he’s still around and still terrible for you—it’s just that we have a different term to describe the experience—benching. It’s a term from sports for the practice of putting people on standby, the dating equivalent of a spare player who is not terrible but not good enough to be a quarterback or left tackle or even the cornerback. Or, like the IT term, benching, or being made to just sit there waiting for the next assignment, or assignation. The term is new but the advice stays the same: Dump them right now. — Preeti Zachariah

Biohacking: The cult of biohackers, often male and possessing an entrepreneurial spirit, has been growing for a while—and 2022 was all about it becoming a full-blown movement. Whether it is Jack Dorsey’s ice-cold water showers and OMAD (only one meal a day, an extreme version of intermittent fasting) or walking around with a glucose monitor skewered on to your tricep like Dave Asprey (a founding father of the biohacking movement) or James Sinka’s penchant for dopamine fasting, which involves cutting yourself off for long periods from food, technology and people, the process doesn’t sound pleasurable. But biohackers (this includes both the folks making relatively benign attempts to change diets, sleep patterns and behaviour to those trying more outlandish experiments involving microchips, bionic eyes, gene editing or cryotherapy) say that the results of these do-it-yourself attempts to overhaul your body, mind and life are worth the pain: Think delayed ageing, improved focus and just a better overall quality of life. Of course, you could just eat mostly unprocessed foods, get enough sleep, move a bit each day and manage stress better to get similar results. But it doesn’t sound quite so catchy, does it? — Preeti Zachariah

48fps: This late entrant to the list owes its place to James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way Of Water. Most films are shot and displayed in 24fps (frames per second). Avatar 2 was shot in 48fps, which, in theory at least, means a more detailed, realistic image. Everyone knows that what Cameron does today, the film world catches up with tomorrow. Jump ahead a few years and 48fps might be as ubiquitous for big-screen blockbusters as 3D. — Uday Bhatia

Covirgin: Are you a covirgin? I would like to believe that I still am. The mind-bending question of why some people never contracted the covid-19 virus, which also gave rise to the term “no covid” or “novid”, has left scientists all over the world perplexed. Some say certain individuals are genetically resistant to coronaviruses, which cause the common cold, while others simply possess a higher level of immune T-cells in their bodies. Yes, covirgins might count themselves lucky but the word will still serve as a grim reminder of the devastation that the pandemic continued to cause this year. And with cases on the rise again, we may just run out of luck. — Nitin Sreedhar

Quiet quitting: The pandemic spurred the anti-hustle culture. The proof lies in the phrase “quiet quitting”, which went viral this year when TikToker Zaid Khan posted a video saying, “I recently learned about this term called ‘quiet quitting’ where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.” It means not putting in the extra hours, not over-committing and not working weekends. You are doing just as much—or as little—as needed. Quiet quitting is no longer limited to the workplace. It spilt over into dating and friendships too, and is used to describe a situation when someone disengages in a relationship. It’s an apt term for the hectic party season: One can choose to quietly quit social commitments in favour of a gentle, restful start to the new year. — Jahnabee Borah

0.5x: Heard someone in a restaurant ask for their picture to be clicked in “point five” and wondered what the Kodak that is about? 0.5x is an ultrawide lens setting available in the in-built cameras of the latest iPhone models, starting from iPhone 11. The latest Android phone models also provide an ultrawide lens for their rear cameras, with default settings going up to 0.3x in some cases. An ultrawide lens widens the field of vision compared to a regular (1x) lens, allowing you to fit more into a frame. It also converges perspective in a way that the object in the frame appears slightly taller and thinner than it is. Ergo, it’s great for Instagram and all the rage with young, click-happy, and dopamine-hungry social media users. The manipulative aspects of this trend notwithstanding, “Take it in point five” is the new “say cheese”. — Shephali Bhatt

Permacrisis: Sometimes a word comes along that not just defines a year but also captures the zeitgeist. Permacrisis, a portmanteau of “permanent” and “crisis”, is one such word. Why did it become so resonant in 2022? Well, right now, life on this planet is pretty much a steady succession of inter-linked disasters. The climate crisis leads the way, of course, a looming threat to human life and civilisation. Add to that Russia’s war against Ukraine, global food and fuel shortages, runaway inflation, reactionary culture warriors capturing the political space and the slow but sure death of progressive values, and you have the spirit of the times in a nutshell. — Bibek Bhattacharya

Sportswashing: Unlike its venerable older brother, greenwashing, sportswashing is a relative newcomer on the block that had a breakout year in 2022. There was the Fifa World Cup, where a repressive autocracy with terrible labour laws, coasting on fossil fuel wealth, hosted the biggest show in world football and boosted its soft power. An even worse autocracy with a terrible human rights record, coasting on fossil fuel wealth, bought cuddly old English football club Newcastle United to boost its global reach. You get the drift? Popular sport is the new opium, and if you are a nation that is more wealthy than ethical, you can always buy a Lionel Messi and hope the glamour with blind the world. — Bibek Bhattacharya

Shadowbanning: It sounds like a word out of John Le Carré spy novel and comes with appropriately worrying implications. Shadowbanning is the process of limiting the reach of a user of an online platform without them noticing. Several platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, have used it for accounts they deem “provocative”, giving rise to wild conspiracy theories. Given how this issue sits at the centre of a whirlpool of free speech, genuinely dangerous use of online platforms, and untrammelled power in the hands of corporations and the governments they are beholden to, this is a word that isn’t being retired soon. — Uday Bhatia

Also read: What if India chose a Word of the Year?

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