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2014’s abridged dictionary

illustrations by erik kriek for the boston globe

Compiled by Globe Opinion staff members, these are the words and phrases that marked the year.

erik kriek for the boston globe


A small country in western Europe. Previously known to most Americans only as the homeland of Tintin and Dr. Evil, Belgium suddenly burst into the national spotlight when its soccer team beat the United States 2-1 in a World Cup game, eliminating the American team from the tournament. The result led to a spike in readership for Belgium’s Wikipedia page, followed by a brief outburst of anti-Belgian sentiment online. While mostly good-natured, the Belgian backlash seemed to have at least a tinge of true sadness, as if the loss to the diminutive Francophone nation symbolized America’s humbling on the world stage. Luckily for Belgium, the anger and disappointment quickly subsided as Americans again lost interest in soccer.



erik kriek for the boston globe

Conscious uncoupling

Mere mortals might call it “divorce.” But Gwyneth Paltrow – actress, blogger, and self-designated lifestyle expert – set the Internet aflame in March when she announced the end of her 10-year marriage to rocker Chris Martin, but framed it in the fuzziest possible way. The act of “conscious uncoupling,” coined by a husband-and-wife team of New Age gurus, involves constructing “an internal cathedral,” developing a “psychospiritual spine,” and “cultivating your feminine energy…regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.” For Paltrow and Martin, it also involved a “breakup-moon” in the Bahamas; some post-split cohabitation in Malibu and Brentwood; and, lately, gossip-sheet rumors of reconciliation.


erik kriek for the boston globe


What started last August as a protest against perceived corruption in video game journalism quickly morphed into something much worse as people using the hashtag #GamerGate began tweeting violent threats against female game designers and critics. One designer, Brianna Wu, was forced to flee her home after someone posted her home address. A threat of a mass shooting forced feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian to cancel a talk at a Utah University. #GamerGate brought to mainstream attention a problem that had been bubbling under the surface of gamer culture for years: A small but vocal minority of gamers have a real problem with the medium’s broadening fanbase.



erik kriek for the boston globe

“Hands up, don’t shoot”

This phrase is arguably the saddest protest slogan of our time, symbolizing how the pleas across generations to end police brutality remain unheard. Long before Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, long before even Amadou Diallo and Rodney King, poets like Langston Hughes lamented, “I do not understand; Why God don’t protect a man; From police brutality; Being poor and black; I’ve no weapon to strike back.” June Jordan wrote it was an “affront” to hear about 18 cops strangling a man to death. Nikki Giovanni wrote, “We were just standing there; talking – not touching or smoking Pot; When this cop told Tyrone; Move along buddy.” Moments later police pounced, and, “Nobody to this very day; Can explain; How it happened.” The fact that it still happens is an incredible shame and stain on the republic.


erik kriek for the boston globe


Isis began the year as a positive word, best associated with the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility – and, to a certain segment of Boston, a chain of upscale parenting-education centers that went out of business in January. But by August, ISIS, an acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was linked to the brutal Middle East terrorist group — and the brand, shall we say, was ruined. Various government agencies and media outlets now refer to the terror group as ISIL, for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (That’s a geographic region that stretches from Egypt to southern Turkey.) But a name first heard amid horror has stuck, and several businesses once called Isis have changed their names: a mobile wallet app, a Belgian chocolate maker. That parenting chain, if it still existed, might have chosen a different word too.



erik kriek for the boston globe

Surge pricing

From beginning to end, this year was contentious for the ride service Uber, which jacks up prices at time of peak demand. On Jan. 1, consumers in New York complained loudly about $100-plus fares for trips of less than 3 miles the night before. By late December, the company was apologizing for fourfold price increases during a hostage crisis in Sydney. To Uber, the policy it calls “surge pricing” is just basic economics: Only by offering drivers more money can it lure out enough of them to satisfy demand during a rainstorm or on New Year’s Eve. To critics, surge pricing reveals Uber’s essential amorality, and it figures prominently in taxi industry lobbying campaigns against Uber in cities around the world. Not everyone can handle Uber’s ice-cold techno-capitalism — maybe not even people at Uber. In July, the company agreed to cap surge pricing during emergencies and donate its cut to the American Red Cross.




A term of endearment that turns patronizing and insulting when used by a male politician to brush off a question from a female reporter — as in “OK, this is going to be the last one, sweetheart”. That’s what Governor-elect Charlie Baker said to Sharman Sacchetti last September when the Fox 25 reporter tried to ask the then-gubernatorial candidate why he was dropping the media firm responsible for an ad that was supposed to make Baker more appealing to women. Anxious to keep female voters from souring on him, Baker apologized to Sacchetti for his unbecoming behavior and went on to sweet victory.


erik kriek for the boston globe

Trigger warnings

Short prefatory alerts cautioning today’s college students that a book, essay, or class discussion might contain something they find unsettling or objectionable. The original logic was that such warnings could help people avoid subjects capable of triggering traumatic personal memories. But in the way of all politically correct excess, the TW trend has grown to encompass broader cautions about language, ideas, or themes that could be considered unpleasant, unsettling or upsetting. So warned, students can absent themselves. Or perhaps put in a pair of earbuds. Or, in the case of vexing visual media, don a hypo-allergenic blindfold. Insulation from uncongenial sentiments undoubtedly makes college a more placid period. The question, however, is whether a protected, trigger-warned college experience prepares today’s students for the realities of the world.


erik kriek for the boston globe

Unaccompanied minors

A long-standing categor y used by US Customs and Border Protection to classify children who cross the border illegally and by themselves (Unaccompanied Alien Children, to be precise.) This summer, after a problematic surge in the number of such kids from Central America who were showing up at the border, the phrase belonged mostly in news headlines. It turned into a symbol of our dysfunctional immigration procedures when it became evident that the system couldn’t handle the rush of minors. Politicians soon started playing hot potato with the issue, and then the numbers of immigrant children crossing the border stabilized. If anything, the Obama administration response to the influx paved the way for the President to issue his long awaited executive action on immigration last month, which represents the most significant revision to our immigration system in almost 30 years.



Other terms to remember

Ice bucket challenge. A donate-or-do-it benefit for ALS, started by Bostonian Peter Frates, goes viral.

Elevator footage. Grainy films of NFL player Ray Rice punching his now-wife, and Solange Knowles going after her brother-in-law, Jay Z, made it clear that elevator time is not private time.

Polar vortex. A large pocket of Arctic air sits over the Northern Hemisphere and (blah blah blah — it was COLD).

Selfie stick. An extendable pole (monopod, if you’re cool) holds your smartphone, so your selfies don’t look so self-involved.

Yo app. Function: Send the word “yo.” Value in July: $5 million to $10 million.

Self-quarantine. Medical professionals who had been exposed to Ebola did this upon return. Or took the subway and went bowling.


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2014: The year in arts

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