As 2022 comes to a close, lexicographers are reflecting on a year of quiet quitting, goblin mode, and various questions of vibe. But those were just a few of the terms that defined America’s weirdest year since 2021.
From red waves to tripledemics, plenty of other terms were inescapable in what we once called “discussion about current events” but would now refer to as “discourse around vibe shifts”. We rounded up a few:
On the opposite end of the spectrum from quiet quitting, there’s Elon Musk’s November ultimatum to Twitter workers: “To build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore.” The difference between everyday coding and extremely hardcore coding remains unclear – does the latter version require a helmet? – but the policy might be somehow linked with the beds that have apparently turned up in Twitter’s offices. It might also be what happens to those left behind when you suddenly sack thousands of their colleagues.
It’s been a wild year, at least according to everyone on the internet. In a span of less than 24 hours on Twitter, for instance, we learn that it’s wild that Elon Musk sought information on someone and then condemned doxxing; it’s wild that a solar company is planning a 10-gigawatt factory in the US; it’s wild that Nintendo chose to recreate certain Mario Kart stages in another game; deepfakes are getting wild; a Tyler Perry series on the royals would be wild; and some exchanges on Twitter are very wild.
Of course, some of these items are wilder than others – most of us can probably sleep tonight regardless of which Mario Kart tracks appear in Super Smash Bros. But the word does seem endlessly useful at a time when any given headline feels like it comes from Magnetic Poetry: Apocalypse Edition.
Remember when “talking around the issue” meant skirting it? Somehow, “around” has increasingly become a way to make the words “about”, “on” and “over” sound smarter, especially in workplace and academic environments – as in “discussions around the return to the workplace”, “concerns around mental health” or “ideas around the role of the orphan in 15th-century literature”.
At the same time, “saying things online” has become “discourse”, turning hot takes and trolling into some sort of scholarly pursuit. It’s not a tweetstorm about Harry Styles spitting on Chris Pine – it is pop culture discourse around masculinity, ego and saliva production.
It calls itself “a research field and practical community that aims to find the best ways to help others, and put them into practice”. Among those “best ways” is, apparently, making an obscene amount of money and then donating some of it.
The controversial movement has seen growing prominence this year – in large part thanks to the downfall of one of its figureheads, Sam Bankman-Fried, best known for allegedly defrauding investors after his FTX cryptocurrency exchange collapsed. He allegedly used customers’ money to bolster his own hedge fund, which could all be part of his plan: maybe he just doesn’t trust the crypto nuts to be as effectively altruistic as he is.
And how effective and altruistic is the movement, anyway? Critics have condemned adherents of an associated philosophy, longtermism, for appearing more interested in preventing a theoretical, AI-dominated future than tackling the problems of the here and now, like the climate crisis. After all, it might not kill everyone – just those of us with less cash on hand.
Covid was furious when everyone decided it didn’t exist, so it’s come roaring back with a pair of sidekicks: flu and RSV. Now a trio of respiratory viruses is sweeping the nation in what experts are calling a “tripledemic”. Sure, as of 16 December, 9,300 people had died from flu this season, and 2,703 people had died of Covid in the week of 14 December, not to mention the countless people living with long-term symptoms. But the pandemic is over! Right?
Celebrities don’t retire – they just evolve. At least that’s what Serena Williams said she was doing this year, as she moves away from a sport she has dominated for two decades. It must also be what happened to Tom Brady, though he accidentally said he was retiring before he un-retired 40 days later. And to the serial retirer Brett Favre, and Jay-Z, who made his “last” album nearly 20 years ago, and Cameron Diaz, and Hayao Miyazaki. In fact, many celebrities do their best work after stopping working.
Perhaps the most notable thing that didn’t happen in the US this year. Before the midterm elections, pundits expected the party of election denial to take control of both chambers of Congress, with conspiracy theorists seeking to control elections in key states. It looked like another nail in the coffin of American democracy.
Instead, Democrats managed to pry out one or two of those existing nails. We can only hope the zombie inside can now push off the coffin lid and lurch its way back into Americans’ hearts.