What's that Word Again?

Eight terms that will bring you up to speed with new lingo

Ishani Nandi Updated: Jan 28, 2019 18:58:14 IST
What's that Word Again? Priya Kuriyan

Pop culture, socio-political movements, the digital revolution: There are endless influences in the world that shape how we see it and communicate. From university students in London using ‘womxn’, a more inclusive term for women, to the Homer Simpson-inspired ‘d’oh!’, the pithy, yet effective, expression of one’s own stupidity, there are words being added to official dictionaries that can leave us scratching our heads. Here are a few:


Gaslight (v.) To manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity

You’re too sensitive. I was just joking. Lighten up! Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which a person seeks to make you question your point of view, the memory of an event or your sanity through misdirection, falsehoods and twisting of facts.

The term came from the 1938 play Gas Light by American playwright Patrick Hamilton, where a man convinces his wife that her noticing of objects missing from their home is only her imagination, when, in fact, he is stealing them. She is made to believe that she is a compulsive thief and comes close to losing her mind.

According to psychotherapist Aparna Balasundaram, “Gaslighters are motivated by the need for power and control. They use conditional apologies (I cheated on you, and I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it. You were never there for me!), denial and lies (I was just trying to help. You are the one being dramatic and oversensitive.) and use an individual’s insecurities and weaknesses against them (You really are so hard to love. No wonder no one has ever stayed with you … except me.)


Adultescent (n.) A middle-aged person whose clothes, interests and activities are typically associated with youth culture.

A portmanteau of ‘adult’ and ‘adolescent’, adultescents—also known as kidults—are marked by their refusal or inability to ‘grow up’ and ‘act their age’ by subscribing to traditional parameters of adulthood. Whether it is obsessing over the Harry Potter books (originally meant for 9 to 14 year olds), quitting ‘stable’ jobs and travelling the world on a budget or tearing up over the 10th rerun of Frozen, adultescents are never ‘too old’ for anything.


Triggered (adj.) An emotional response to a particular action, process, or situation that recalls a past traumatic experience.

Triggered—a shortened form of ‘trauma trigger’­—has been used by psychologists for years to describe past traumatic experience, resulting in extreme stress and panic.

‘Trigger warnings’ became popular disclaimers on online forums and communities during the ’90s, particularly among feminist group discussions on sensitive topics such as sexual assault and domestic violence. It alerted readers about potentially distressing information.

Eventually it was criticized for being so overused as to become meaningless, and, more worryingly, a way to attract more attention to the content, rather than act as a dissuader.


Woke (adj.) To be, or stay, alert to social injustice, especially regarding discrimination against specific races or minorities, as well as other global movements and causes.

According to Merriam-Webster, the origin of ‘woke’ lies in African–American culture and was used as a call to action to stay socially and politically aware of racial injustice in the world. It gained wider use with the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. From the vernacular, it came to be contemporarily used ever since singer–songwriter Erykah Badu used it in her song ‘Master Teacher’ in 2008. Nowadays, the term is more liberally used to describe anyone who takes an active stand against discrimination, privilege and oppression.


Genderqueer (n.) A person who does not subscribe to conventional gender binaries, and instead identifies with neither, both or a combination.

With greater acceptance and increased visibility of a wide spectrum of gender identities, it is now held that gender is a fluid concept that individuals have the right to determine for themselves, including what they choose to call themselves, who or what they desire and which pronoun they prefer to go by. Genderqueer is a sexual identity that centres around the concept of ‘queer’—people who sit within the grey areas of what has so far been a black-and-white binary of gender as either male or female. 


Humblebrag (n.) A modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.

While the need for validation is hardly new, we now live in a world where the culture of celebrating oneself seems almost universal. Armed with smartphones, a veritable army of selfie-taking, online-posting, mini celebrities have arrived, driven maniacally to shine under their very own spotlight. Ironically, shameless bragging still causes major annoyance among peers and strangers alike.

Solution? The humblebrag—a boast rooted in false modesty, and carefully layered in a complaint or criticism to downplay any self-aggrandisement: I’m so exhausted! It’s such a pain to be invited to every A-list party in the city.

In an American study by researchers at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, humblebragging, was found to be a major turn-off for people, far more, in fact, than confident or brazen self-promotion.


Slacktivism (n.) Supporting a political or social cause through social media or online petitions, involving little effort or commitment.

In a world where almost everything is manufactured for low effort and zero thinking, social media activism is no exception. Enter slacktivism—the phenomenon of making the world a better place, but from the comfort of your home, without having to actually do anything. Ready-to-click activism seems appealing, but can be ineffective and pointless. Hidden behind their screens, slacktivists are likely sufferers of the illusion of I’m a good person because with a quick click they signed up to a cause-related page or forum, liked and shared an awareness news post or email, signed an online petition—token acts that lack real effort.        


Ghosting (n.) The practice of ending a relationship by suddenly withdrawing all communication without explanation.

We’ve gone from arranged marriages, where one might not even meet a partner until the wedding day, to online dating apps, where your significant other may disappear on you. Ghosting is a rising trend especially in relationships built on communication in the virtual world. The word has multiple meanings depending on context, but it is essentially about people who become incommunicado. In relationships, a person is said to have ‘ghosted’, ostensibly to imply the end of the relationship.

In a culture of ‘there’s plenty of fish in the sea’ and ‘move on’, ghosting allows people dissatisfied with a date or a relationship to cut ties without the painful confrontation of an official break-up. While this sounds tempting, the lack of closure can cause victims of ghosting to develop emotional distress, an inability to trust people or form healthy future relationships.

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