My initial reaction after hearing that the Oxford Dictionaries have chosen “vape” as its word of the year for 2014: this is dumb as hell. Why, I thought, do they always have to cull the word of the year from techno-cultural fads and chat room gibberish? And as a word of the year, vape is without question a thoroughly British selection: both the sound of the word and its action come across as unduly Victorian and literally steampunk. But the obvious problem with “vape” as a word of the year selection is that it may have a short lifespan. E-cigarettes are increasingly banned in cosmopolitan areas, even if their prohibition is hasty and ill-founded. So vape is in danger of becoming a “word of the year” in the sense that, having vanished, it may be uniquely tied to the year 2014 as a kind of period piece. How long before “vape” vapes? Its usage is already in decline after peaking in April.
It’s even weirder that Oxford Dictionaries finds it necessary to advocate for vaping in a piece commissioned from Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at University College London (Director of Tobacco studies?):
There is some controversy over vaping. A number of high-profile public health advocates have engaged in what appears to be a propaganda campaign against them, creating an impression in the public consciousness that they are more dangerous than they are and that they are undermining tobacco control efforts when the evidence does not support this.
But consider this: if a substantial study validates “vaping” as a suitably healthy alternative to actual smoking, or as a health act that may help you quit cigarettes, then the word will flower within our brains for decades. And the lexicographers at Oxford Dictionaries will appear to be geniuses.
But the real reason vape wins is that it’s just better than the other options, listed here:
bae n. used as a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner.
budtender n. a person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop.
contactless adj. relating to or involving technologies that allow a smart card, mobile phone, etc. to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader, typically in order to make a payment.
indyref, n. an abbreviation of ‘independence referendum’, in reference to the referendum on Scottish independence, held in Scotland on 18 September 2014, in which voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’
normcore n. a trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement.
slacktivism, n., informal actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website; a blend of slacker and activism.
These words are too ephemeral. Bae is near death by virtue of its increasing nearness to American Midwestern culture. Budtender, a hideous construction, is basically just a euphemism for someone who lives in Colorado. The moment for Indyref has already passed. Because of the dialectical nature of the fashion industry, normcore will soon become a metaphysical impossibility. Slacktivism is two parts too Generation X. Then there is contactless, which is fine, I guess, but far too boring to be the word of the year.
But, at the end of the day, it’s hard to get too mad about how dumb the word of the year is every single year. Their selection implies they’re already dead, for we only have words for what is dead in our hearts. And if you don’t like a word, you can always change its meaning. I love the idea of “a vape” as someone who is vapid and also looks like an e-cigarette. So my new meaning for vape is: anyone who says it out loud.