New Words for 2021

Each year, Merriam-Webster announces new words that are being added to the dictionary. This annual ritual shows how our culture is changing through language. It’s a good indicator to what our thoughts and concerns are. Last year 455 new words make it into the lexicon. They can be divided into the following categories —

Online Culture and Communication

 The coronavirus pandemic has only increased our need for quick and informal online communication. For example —

TBH : an abbreviation for “to be honest.” TBH is frequently used in social media and text messaging.

amirite : slang used in writing for “am I right” to represent or imitate the use of this phrase as a tag question in informal speech. An example: “English spelling is consistently inconsistent, amirite?”

More Coronavirus Words

Since the pandemic story isn’t over, we continue to need more vocabulary to describe COVID-19 policy and research developments. So now we have —

super-spreader : an event or location at which a significant number of people contract the same communicable disease — often used before another noun (as in a “super-spreader event”). The term super-spreader originally referred to a highly contagious person capable of passing on a disease to many others, and now can also refer to a single place or occasion where many others are infected.

vaccine passport : a physical or digital document providing proof of vaccination against one or more infectious diseases (such as COVID-19).

Tech and Science

Our digital technology has progressed to where we require words for the decay of files, opportunistic attacks on computer programs, super shortcuts, and massive quantities of data storage. These include —

zero-day : of, relating to, or being a vulnerability (as in a computer or computer system) that is discovered and exploited (as by cybercriminals) before it is known to or addressed by the maker or vendor.

CubeSat : an artificial satellite typically designed with inexpensive components that fit into a cube with a volume of 1 cubic meter. These small satellites are typically used for academic, commercial, or amateur research projects in orbit.


Do politicians need even more words to pontificate? Apparently so —

whataboutism : the act or practice of responding to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that an offense committed by another is similar or worse also : the response itself. The synonymous term whataboutery is more common in British English.


Many new foods migrate from cultures that don’t speak English, but 2021’s batch also features a venerable and all-American regionalism, along with new cooking and food preparation descriptions.

air fryer : an airtight, usually small electrical appliance for quick cooking of foods by means of convection currents circulated rapidly by a fan.

ghost kitchen : a commercial cooking facility used for the preparation of food consumed off the premises — called also cloud kitchen, dark kitchen.


fourth trimester : the three month period immediately following giving birth in which the mother typically recovers from childbirth and adjusts to caring for her infant; especially : the first three months of an infant’s life.

Pop Culture

otaku : a person having an intense or obsessive interest especially in the fields of anime and manga —often used before another noun.

faux-hawk : a hairstyle resembling a Mohawk in having a central ridge of upright hair but with the sides gathered or slicked upward or back instead of shaved.

Other Notables

doorbell camera : a small camera that is designed for use on an exterior door, that includes or connects to a doorbell, and that often has a built-in microphone and speaker. (I think Amazon had something to do with this one.)

For more information about our expanding language, visit

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