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'Vape' Is Oxford Dictionaries' Word of 2014

woman using a vape pen
(Image credit: scyther5/

E-cigarettes have gone mainstream — and so has the vocabulary about the devices.

Oxford Dictionaries announced today (Nov. 18) that "vape" is its word of 2014, chosen over other buzzwords like "normcore," "bae" and "budtender."

To vape is to inhale or exhale the nicotine-laced vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar battery-powered device. But you probably already knew that, because use of the word vape, like vaping itself, has exploded over the past year, according to Oxford Dictionaries. Vape was added to Oxford's online dictionary in August 2014, and the word is now being considered for admission into the more prestigious Oxford English Dictionary. [Vaping: How E-cigs Work]

E-cigarettes first came into wide usage in China, where the technology was patented in 2003. But the word and concept of vaping might predate the recent phenomenon. Oxford Dictionaries pointed out that an article called "Why Do People Smoke?" that was published in 1983 in the now-defunct magazine New Society described a hypothetical device that looked very similar to today's e-cigarettes. The article said: "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.)"

Now, vaping is a huge industry in the United States, though the devices have yet to be regulated. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that the e-cigarette market could top $2 billion in 2014. But vaping doesn't just have big business potential; it also has "linguistic productivity," according to Oxford Dictionaries.

The most widely used spinoff terms are "vape shop" and "vape pen" (which might be used to describe larger vaporizing devices that look nothing like cigarettes). E-cigarettes are so popular that Oxford Dictionaries representatives say they've tracked a rise in the use of the term "tobacco cigarette" as a retronym, much like the phrase "acoustic guitar," which only became necessary after electric guitars were invented.

"E-juice" is the liquid (which usually contains water, a solvent such as glycerin or polyethylene glycol, flavoring and nicotine) that is heated and converted to vapor inside an e-cigarette. "Carto" is an abbreviated version of "cartomizer," which is the disposable cartridge that contains the e-juice as it is transformed into vapor.

Oxford Dictionaries picked vape over several runner-ups, including the term of endearment bae and the tech buzzword "contactless," which refers to payment systems like iPay that could make the credit-card swipe obsolete. Budtender was also considered. That word, which describes someone who works in a cannabis dispensary or shop, might have been a topical choice as more U.S. states are legalizing recreational marijuana use. Also on the shortlist was normcore, which Oxford Dictionaries defines as a "trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement."

Vape follows last year's winner "selfie." In 2012, the word of the year was "GIF," although Oxford Dictionaries didn't take a stance on how to pronounce it, claiming GIF could be said with soft "g" as in giant, or a hard "g" as in graphic.

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Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.