7 Popular Words That Didn’t Officially Exist Before 2000

For most of us, the English language feels like a constant – something that just doesn’t really change.

Sure enough, there are some parts of the language that haven’t changed much since William Shakespeare sat down to write Romeo and Juliet. However, there are also plenty of new words and changes that would leave Shakespeare scratching his head.

In this list, we’re going to explore 10 words that didn’t exist before the year 2000. We’ll also take a look at the origin of each word and how common it is today.

  1. Selfie

Now, if we’re really honest, ‘selfies’ have been around since neolithic people first started drawing themselves and their stone-age friends on cave walls – but the word itself is only around 20 years old.

Throughout the ages, self-portraits have been hugely popular. In fact, a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo recently sold for nearly $35 Million – but the age of digital cell phones meant almost everyone had an instant self-portrait machine in their pocket 24 hours a day.

On 13 September 2002, an Australian called Nathan Hope decided to share a picture of his split lip in an online science forum. He explained the damaged lip’s drunken cause, then, aware that the picture was out of focus, he apologised in the caption, saying “…And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

This type of word is known as a ‘hypocorism’ – a popular type of slang in Australia. It describes a word that is clipped down to a single syllable then given a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ ending. 

In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary didn’t just enter the word into its pages – it also crowned ‘selfie’ as “word of the year”. Quite impressive for a word that stemmed from a drunken fall just 11 years before.

  1. Bromance

The second ‘portmanteau’ on this list blends parts of the word “brother” and “romance” to create the word “bromance” – a platonic love shared between two ‘bros’ – a slang term for male friends.

While “bromance” is now even considered to be a genre of movies and TV shows (think Top Gun, Lord of the Rings and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) – it was actually first coined in the skateboarding magazine Big Brother in the late 1990s by Dave Carie.

Carie used the term to describe the kind of love and regard that develops between skaters who spend a lot of time together. Despite it being unlikely that there are many skateboarders working for the Oxford English Dictionary, it was decided it would be included in their pages from 2010.

  1. Podcast

Podcasts are virtually everywhere. No matter how niche your interest, there’s almost certainly someone who shares it with you and is creating audio content around it.

Podcasts are such an intrinsic part of people’s lives that they’ve even overtaken radio and television for some people as their favourite form of media. In fact, the Joe Rogan Experience podcast attracts around 11 million listeners every week – that’s more than most primetime TV shows in the US and the UK.

So, what’s the background of the word?

Podcast is a type of word known as a ‘portmanteau’ – the blending of parts of existing words to create an entirely new word. In this case, Guardian journalist Ben Hammersley blended ‘iPod’ and ‘Broadcast’ to create ‘podcast’ in a 2004 Guardian article. Shortly afterwards it picked up by early-adopters of the audioblogging community.

In 2005, “podcast” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and was also given the title of “word of the year”.

  1. YouTuber

Ask a child what they’d like to be when they’re older and many of them will tell you the same thing – a “YouTuber”. Older generations sometimes complain that these new digital roles aren’t really jobs – but part of the reason why relates to the age of the word and the technology.

YouTube itself didn’t launch officially until December 15, 2005 – and the term “YouTuber” didn’t appear until the middle of 2006.

YouTube is a compound word – created by combining ‘Tube’ – an American slang term for a television, and ‘You’. The combined phrase is intended to let people know that the website gives ‘you’ the ability to appear on the ‘tube’. It is stylised with an upper case Y and T to reflect the company’s branding. Adding ‘r’ to the end of the word creates ‘YouTuber’ – a YouTube user.

The Oxford English Dictionary added “YouTuber” to its pages in 2016 and defines the term as “A frequent user of the video-sharing website YouTube, especially someone who produces and appears in videos on the site.” With some Youtubers amassing a wealth into the tens of millions of dollars while still being children, being a YouTuber is definitely an attractive career choice! 

  1. Hashtag

The ‘#’ symbol is nothing new – but it reached new levels of popularity after open-source advocate and blogger Chris Messina proposed its use on Twitter as a way of grouping topics together. 

Before social media days, a “hash tag” or “tag hash” was used in IT to highlight specific pieces of text – and it was decided it would be a useful way of doing a similar job in the character-restricted space of Twitter. 

Although we’re yet to see groups of words organised with hashtags in the Oxford English Dictionary, it was decided that it should enter it’s page in June of 2014.

  1. Earworm

If you’ve ever had a song stuck in your head for an annoyingly long period of time, you’ve experienced an “earworm”.

According to studies into music and brain science, around 98% of people have experienced having an earworm – and it’s usually the chorus of an especially catchy song that sticks in a person’s thoughts. 

Some popular earworms include “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5, and the aptly named “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue. 

The word “earworm” is a type of word known as a ‘calque’ – which means it’s a word that’s borrowed from another language or adapted from a word in another language. In this case, earworm is thought to have developed from the German word “Ohrwurm” – the practice of using ground up insect remains to treat ear infections. It might not be the most enjoyable practice to imagine, but, in time, it came to mean something that got stuck in your ear – as a piece of music might.

Although the word was coined in the 70s, it wasn’t officially accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary until 2018. 

  1. Emoji

While some language purists will no doubt cringe at any mention of emojis, they’ve become an increasingly important part of the English language since becoming popular worldwide in the 2010s.

You could be fooled into thinking that the word “Emoji” has routes in the English word “Emotion” or even “Emoticon” (using characters to create faces within text) – but these similarities are entirely coincidental. In fact, the word emoji comes from the Japanese ‘e’ (絵, meaning ‘picture’) and ‘moji’ (文字, meaning ‘character’). 

The Oxford English Dictionary added the word ‘Emoji’ in 2013 – and, in 2015, they picked the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji as their word of the year.

What’s next?

So, what comes next for the English language? Based on the last few years, we can expect to see words like “peoplekind” and other non-gender specific terms entering the dictionary. Whatever your opinion on the changing technologies, cultures, and attitudes of the word, there’s no stopping them – and the most popular language on earth must continue to evolve to keep up.