Lindsay Lohan, Katy Perry, Barry Manilow and Ronnie Wood all do it, and now it’s Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. Vape: to suck on an electronic cigarette. If you vape, you are a “vaper” (for obvious reasons, no one thought “vapist” was a good idea); and the act of doing so – perhaps in a “vaporium” – is “vaping”. (In fact, “vaping” was coined as long ago as 1983, when such devices were as yet a pipe-dream.)
Associated vape-vocab noticed by Oxford includes “e-cigarette”, “e-juice” (the nicotinous liquid inside), and the pleasing retrospective formation “tobacco cigarette”, so people will know what you mean when referring to what used to be just a “cigarette”. Technically, this is called a retronym, as when people began to say “landline” when mobile phones were invented; or when restaurants began to offer “hen’s eggs” once foodists had moved on to scoffing the eggs of ostriches and probably ants.
A well-chosen word of the year tells us something about the cultural conversation over the past 12 months. As Oxford Dictionaries chief Casper Grathwohl remarks: “This year ‘vape’ sat at the centre of several rich conversations: the debate over private versus community rights; regulation and public health; and our relationship to our visible vices.” So, to look back over 10 years of such lists might be one way to plot a cultural narrative, or at least thrill to our remembered linguistic innocence, before everyone knew what it meant to vape while twerking.