“Binge-watch,” “ghost,” and other new dictionary terms that illustrate technology’s slow takeover of our lives


Binge-watching has become so ubiquitous in our lives that the term has been added to the dictionary.

Merriam-Webster added “binge-watch”—defined as a transitive verb, meaning, “to watch many or all episodes of (a TV series) in rapid succession”—to its pages today, along with one thousand other terms, part of an annual update to its pages.

The word may have been popularized in reference to Netflix and other streaming-video apps like Hulu in the 2000s, but it dates back to the 1990s.

Ben Zimmer at Visual Thesaurus found instances of the term “binge watch” on forum posts by fans of the TV show The X-Files back in 1996—about ten years before Netflix starting streaming video. It was used to describe marathon viewing of the science-fiction drama, playing on the term “binge” and its other iterations, like “binge-eating” and “binge-drinking.”

Merriam-Webster says the term was coined in 2003, perhaps referring to when it entered into popular, mainstream media use. That year, reporter Brill Bundy used it to describe “watching an entire season’s worth of a series in a couple of sittings.”

Terms added to the dictionary last year, Quartz’s Thu-Huong Ha reported, included internet slang such as “FOMO”, or fear of missing out, and “ICYMI”, or in case you missed it, as well as 2,000 other words, such as “revenge porn” and “trigger warning”.

This year’s slate doesn’t describe using technology as much as it describes the behavioral and societal changes technology has brought on.

Some of the new terms from Merriam-Webster include:

  • abandonware (n): software that is no longer sold or supported by its creator
  • botnet (n): a network of computers that have been linked together by malware
  • fast fashion (n): an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers
  • humblebrag (verb, transitive + intransitive): to make a seemingly modest, self-critical, or casual statement or reference that is meant to draw attention to one’s admirable or impressive qualities or achievements
  • ghost (transitive verb): to abruptly cut off all contact with (someone, such as a former romantic partner) by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc.
  • net neutrality (n): the idea, principle, or requirement that internet service providers should or must treat all internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination
  • NSFW (abbr): not safe for work; not suitable for work
  • photobomb (verb, transitive + intransitive): to move into the frame of a photograph as it is being taken as a joke or prank

Other notable new terms include:

  • EpiPen (n): used for a preparation of epinephrine administered by auto-injector
  • FLOTUS (abbr, v): the first lady of the United States —often used like a nickname
  • first world problem (n): a usually minor or trivial problem or annoyance experienced by people in relatively affluent or privileged circumstances especially as contrasted with problems of greater social significance facing people in poor and underdeveloped parts of the world
  • listicle (n): an article consisting of a series of items presented as a list
  • mumblecore (n): a genre of narrative film focusing primarily on the intimate lives of young characters and featuring scenes of ample dialogue and minimal action
  • ping (n): a signal sent from one computer to another across a network for usually diagnostic purposes
  • SCOTUS (abbr, n): the Supreme Court of the United States —often used like a nickname
  • side-eye (n): a sidelong glance or gaze especially when expressing scorn, suspicion, disapproval, or veiled curiosity
  • throw shade (slang): to express contempt or disrespect for someone publicly especially by subtle or indirect insults or criticisms
  • town hall (n): an event at which a public official or political candidate addresses an audience by answering questions posed by individual members
  • truther (n): one who believes that the truth about an important subject or event is being concealed from the public by a powerful conspiracy
  • urgent care (n): medical care provided for illnesses or injuries which require prompt attention but are typically not of such seriousness as to require the services of an emergency room
  • walk back (transitive verb): to retreat from or distance oneself from (a previously stated opinion or position)
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