Cheugy, Murraya and Critical Race Theory: The Words That Defined 2021

In 2021 we can see that the year was filled with the excitement and difficulties of the world emerging again after an year of uncertainty. The Omicron variant emerged in the last few weeks and has since been locking down. One of the most cogent ways to see the reach of this over the past year was through language—the colorful ways that we communicated the many changes, and described our adjustments, to our new way of life.

Take for example, the emergence of “hot vax summer,” a cheeky phrase coined by recently vaccinated singles ready for the thrills of a potential surge in social action after a long and lonely year of social distancing. Or breakthrough, a descriptor that’s taken on new meaning when used to talk about the emergence of new variants of COVID-19, which can infect people even when they’re vaccinated against the disease.
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Of course, it wasn’t just the pandemic that shaped how we communicated this year—it would be difficult to overlook the outstanding influence of the virtual world on 2021. An increase in interest in cryptocurrency, and the increasing interest in NFTs. (More on this). These are the people are, below), the lines between the natural world and the digital world—or should we say, the Metaverse—seem to be converging more and more.

Here, TIME rounds up some of the words that—for better or worse (and sometimes both)—have defined 2021:

Bestie, noun: an abbreviation for “best friend;” a term of endearment popularized by TikTok, as in “So true, bestie!”

Breakthroughdjective: A term used to refer to an infection (e.g. COVID-19) that persists despite being vaccinated against it.

Illustration by Kim Sielbeck, TIME

Cheugy, adjective: A catchall descriptor for someone or something that is basic, trying too hard or not trendy; originating on TikTok, it’s often used by Gen Z to deride millennial trends.

The noun of Critical Race Theory: (1) Intellectual movement that contextualizes structural racism. (2) A buzzword in debates about what students should know about race.

Learn more ‘Critical Race Theory Is Simply the Latest Bogeyman.’ Inside the Fight Over What Kids Learn About America’s History

Deplatform,erb: To ban, boycott or otherwise limit the influence of someone on a platform—usually a social media or other public forum.

Eco-anxiety, noun: Climate change is a significant concern and cause for fear.

Himbo, noun: Attractive, but not intelligently brilliant man.

Illustration by Kim Sielbeck, TIME

Hot vax summer, noun: The season of surge social action in vaccinated singles is predicted, even if it never happens. This prediction was made after one year of distancing.

Hybrid, adjective: A mixture of parts. This is used in employment models in which workers are expected to do both in-person work and remote work.

Metaverse, noun: (1) A digital realm or collective of virtual experiences, environments and assets; (2) A vision of the future of the Internet, as promulgated by Facebook’s October announcement that it was renaming itself Meta.

Learn more TIME launches a new newsletter on the Metaverse

Murraya, noun: (1) The genus consisting of Australian and tropical Asiatic trees and shrubs. (2) The word by which Zaila Avantgarde, in July, became the first Black American winner at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. This contest dates back to 1925.

Illustration by Kim Sielbeck, TIME

Regencycore is a noun and/or an adjective A fashion and culture trend inspired by the look of the British Regency period—or by Netflix’s hit Bridgerton and the series’ celebration of early 19th century aristocrats and their glamorous foibles.

Title: Second man A male partner in a U.S. vice president (see Doug Emhoff husband of Kamala Harris).


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