“Vape” is word of the year for 2014

With over 2 million users in the UK and sales rising by 340 per cent a year, e-cigarettes are here to stay. And to support this new cultural phenomenon, fresh words have entered our language to enable us to discuss vaping at length.

In fact, so many people are talking about e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) that Oxford English Dictionary (OED) made ‘vape’ its Word of the Year for 2014. The verb ‘to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device’ was added to the dictionary last year. You are now 30 times more likely to come across the word vape than two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year. Both the device and the action can be known as ‘a vape’, according to the OED. The associated noun, ‘vaping’, is also listed.

Usage of vape peaked in April 2014, around the time that the first ‘vape café’ (The Vape Lab in Shoreditch) opened its doors, and protests were held in response to New York City’s ban on indoor vaping. In the same month, the issue of vaping was debated by The Washington Post, the BBC and The Telegraph, among others.

New compound nouns, such as vape pen and vape shop, are growing in popularity. The OED also notes evidence for vape lounge, vape fluid, vape juice and others. A retronym (a new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish the original word from a later development) has also come into use – tobacco cigarette describes traditional cigarettes.

Although only recent added to an official dictionary, the word ‘vaping’ had been used even before the phenomenon itself came about. A 1983 article in New Society described what was then a hypothetical device: “an inhaler or non-combustible cigarette, looking much like the real thing, but … delivering a metered dose of nicotine vapour. (the new habit, if it catches on, would be known as vaping.)”

For those who want to appear particularly trendy, the World Wide Words website lists advanced jargon for vaping aficionados. Specialist retailers are known as vapologists, an e-cig cartridge might be called a vape tank, clearomizer or cartomizer, and the nicotine solution is known as e-juice or e-liquid. Vaping enthusiasts can be referred to as flavour junkies and cloud chasers.

Previous Oxford Dictionary favourites reflect changes in the cultural climate. Last year’s word was ‘selfie’, while in 2010 it was ‘big society’. Word of the Year in 2008 was ‘credit crunch’, and back in 2004 it was ‘chav’. 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, "Vape" is word of the year for 2014;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20067665

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