Vape, Chav, Simples: These Graphs Show How Much 'Words of the Year' Actually Get Used After They Join the Dictionary

Thank you, Google Trends, for showing us how stupid this whole thing is.

by Joel Golby
20 November 2014, 12:37pm

Photo by Flickr user Eliot Phillips

​I hate Scrabble and I have Google, so I have literally no use for a dictionary, ever. On 364 days of the year I can completely ignore the dictionary. I don't even think I have one in my house. I know words. The hell do I need a dictionary for.

My thinking is that this exact situation – people not really needing dictionaries any more whatsoever – is why Oxford Dictionaries announce their zeitgeist-y "Word of the Year" every 12 months. Because that is the one day a year everyone absolutely loses their mind about dictionaries. "How dare this nerd book I don't care about include a doomed-to-fail slang word!" everyone goes. " Is our beautiful English language not sacred any more?"

This year, the word is "vape". If you haven't yet, why not try saying that aloud and seeing how you feel about it. Like a small cloud of nicotine-flavoured steam, as soon as the word leaves your lips, you will realise that it is the death of culture. The worst thing to happen to pub gardens since children. But that's not the point.

Like it or not, the word "vape" does sum up the state of 2014. As does another word on the Oxford Dictionaries' shortlist: "slacktivism", the act of doing the ice bucket challenge and giggling your dumb way through it and not doing anything like donating actual money to charity. Which is sort of the point of the Word of the Year – summing up the year in one succinct, doomed-to-fail piece of slang that we will all look back on one day (today) and grimace. Who says "chav" any more? Who says "bovvered"? And who even said them in the first place? Exactly: pricks.

Inadvertently, the Word of the Year list has become a solid marker as to how we were letting ourselves down in any particular year. Because vapists and slacktivists are our twats, our pricks, our dickheads. And there is nothing that is both more current and more timeless than a dickhead.

Anyway, the graphs below are from Google trends. They measure the amount of times people have been searching for the "Words of the Year" since they were added to the Oxford Dictionary. From the results, we should be able to see how they've soared or declined (mostly declined) in usage.


​As we can see from the chart, "chav" definitely seems to have had its moment. Yet, despite being the oldest word on the list, the fact that it's lingered at about the same level of online usage for the last six years makes it the sneer that just won't quit.

But, in 2004, it was ubiquitous. Here's how the Guardian defined it, way back when: "Chav is the noun which describes young men who wear cheap gold jewellery and baseball caps and hang around in shopping centres all over Britain." 

And that pretty much sums it up, because "chav" was never a word used by chavs – it was almost always zoological in its approach, of eyes looking in at the goldfish bowl. Nobody self-identifies as a chav. "Chav" is a word used only by people who use a copy of Metro to sweep invisible ass particles off their seat on the bus. It's for people who bring prams to brunch. It's for anyone who has ever recorded Grand Designs.


​Pricks in offices doing Sudoku, that's what 2005 was. By the looks of things, that's all 2005 was – pricks on trains, taking up seats just so they could balance out a nine and a three while pregnant women had to stand. That was it. Absolute write-off of a year. This won't be the only time in the list where we'll see that endorsement from Oxford Dictionaries has basically acted as a kiss of death for a word. 


​Fun quiz: what TV show did the term "bovvered" originate from? No, you're wrong. It's forgotten BBC Two shitcast The Catherine Tate Show and not, as I was convinced, Little Britain. We're both getting confused because Little Britain had that character who was fat and pregnant all the time? And The Catherine Tate Show just had that character who was naughty and loud in school? Either way, both their catchphrases are the kind of thing the novelty tie-wearing fun guy at work shouts to break the tension in a sexual harassment hearing.

Or they were, at least – the word has zig-zagged its way towards death ever since it was crowned "Word of the Year". Nowadays, that annoying guy from your work is probably wearing a black polo neck to his sexual harassment hearings.


Apparently, internet users stopped caring about carbon footprints in about 2009, leaving logistics companies, NGOs and world leaders to sort out our mess.

God, remember that six-week period where people actually gave a shit about their own personal impact on the environment? All those public awareness posters. All those fundraising concerts. Has it really been seven years since you properly sorted the recycling out and didn't half-arse it like you do now?


​Didn't last long, did it? A crushing financial abyss was yawning open ahead of everyone in 2008, and that year the people at the Oxford Dictionaries were obsessed with fun little debt-ridden words and phrases you could use while moving out of your house, utterly bereft, your kids asking if they'll eat tonight. 

Fellow 2008 WotY contender "Jingle Mail" was "the practice of sending back one's house keys to the mortgage company because of negative equity", while an IPOD was, apparently, the acronym for "insecure, pressured, overtaxed, and debt-ridden". FUNT meant "Financially UNTouchable", as well, which I can actually imagine being a more useful phrase. 

2008: the year of fun linguistic wordplay and massive, catastrophic debt. Debt that we're still basically in. I guess the fact the word's now dead is testament to politicians' abilities to describe their repeated failures in brand new ways.


​Bucking the trend, "simples" is actually gaining power and strength with each passing year. Oleg the Meerkat say: this has to stops!

It's bad enough that people go out of their way to actually watch the annual Christmas adverts for John Lewis, but to quote the catchphrase of a squeaking, CGI meerkat? To deliberately compare your insurance through their website so you get a cuddly toy along with your quote? That's unpopular substitute teacher behaviour, that is. That's why the world ended up broke.


​This is probably the first entry on the list that was basically the Oxford Dictionaries waking up on game day, realising they hadn't picked a Word of the Year yet and just plumping with whatever Twitter was joking about that day. Which shows that they're better at gauging the longevity of a word when they're just guessing at random.


​In 2011 I was unemployed for three quite miserable months in the deepest part of winter, eating a lot of pasta from a big 5kg bag and eventually having to take out a loan to pay off a bit of overdraft so I could afford a travelcard to get to my new barely-above-minimum-wage job. 

So, understandably, a lot of my time then – and, indeed, now – is spent really caring about people who can't quite decide which of their two cars to sell so they can afford to keep their kid on a gluten-free diet. Thank you, Oxford Dictionaries, for reminding us of the true losers of economic oblivion: people who subscribe to the Virgin Wine Club.


​Analyse the above graph carefully and you can see that one person said "omnishambles", once, in early 2013. Then it died.

This was the year of the Olympics! Of Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired pegging! Of "Gangnam Style"! Knowing that "omnishambles" was the word of 2012 feels like watching an old episode of Big Fat Quiz of the Year with Jimmy Carr's honking laugh and going: "What in screaming fuck? Did I even live through this year or did I slip into a coma somewhere mid-January?" Even the ​New Statesman could barely work up 60 words about the fact that omnishambles – a throwaway joke from The Thick of It – was knowingly referenced exactly once in Parliament by Ed Miliband. 


​See that bit where "selfie" starts to tail off? That started the day your mum put one on Facebook.

I don't quite understand how selfies only became a thing in 2013, because it sort of suggests people only thought to take a picture of themselves when Apple released an iPhone with a front-facing camera. As if, up until then, people had been like: "I mean, I'd like to take a photo of my eyebrows and fringe today. But... but, just darn it if I can't figure out the angles." 

We can land a fridge on a comet but most of us down here on Earth can't figure out recreational self portraiture unless we're looking at the screen while doing it. Nobody thought to turn the camera round and point it at themselves before that. Nobody could figure out the right angles in a mirror. Once again, "selfie" being Word of the Year just highlights how useless we all are.


​Fly high for now, "vape", but know forever that the Oxford Dictionaries endorsement means you are doomed to die.

I have only ever spoken to one human being who vapes, and it was while I was chatting to a friend of my cousin's in the Midlands over the summer. He honked on his ghost cigarette and did an impression of me that went like this: "Ooh, I'm Joel! I don't like racism because I live in London!" Then he said the word "nogs" about a hundred times in a row. And I hadn't even mentioned racism, I'd just asked him what the deal with vaping was. What more of a sample of vapists do you need? Exactly.


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