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The Newest Words in the English Language

The Newest Words in the English Language

Dictionaries are always being updated with new terms because modern languages are always changing. Especially in the age of social media, it's never been easier for new words to be adopted by large numbers of people.

This time, we'll take a look at some of the newest words added to popular online dictionaries like Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster. You'll probably notice that some of them are actually not new at all. In these cases, it means they've gained a new usage that did not exist before. It's important to remember that the old meanings have not been replaced; instead, the same word can now mean something different in specific situations. Pay extra attention to these terms so that you aren't confused by the newer meanings when you hear them in a real conversation!

OK, let’s check out some of the freshest words and expressions in the English language!

Hard pass

A woman holding out her hand to reject or say "no" to something

Imagine if someone invited you to dinner at a nice steak restaurant. If you love steak, you may reply with "Yes, absolutely!" But how would your vegetarian friend respond to the same invitation?

A common way to strongly say "no" these days is with the term "hard pass." It basically means "I'm not interested at all." It's quite a casual expression, so be sure to only use it when talking with friends.

Do you wanna go skiing with us?
Hard pass. I don't really like high places or cold weather. Thanks for the invitation, though.


"Green" is often used to talk about things related to the environment, but this word may not have the meaning you expect. To "greenwash" is to pretend like you are helping or protecting the environment when you really are not. It can also refer to hiding activities that actually damage the planet instead of helping it. 

It's mostly used when talking about companies and people with a large amount of power or influence.

The company tried to greenwash the effects of its factories on the land.

It can also be used as a noun.

The CEO's speech about protecting the planet was just greenwash. Nobody believes the promises he made.

"-wash" terms come in many colors! There is also "whitewashing" and "pinkwashing." They might sound clean, but they are all negative!

Digital nomad

While people have been working remotely for many years, the coronavirus pandemic made it much more common. Some people never even meet their coworkers face to face!

A nomad is a person who moves from place to place without staying in one area for a long time. So this new term is just a modern version of the same idea — someone who does not have a regular office or who is free to work anywhere they like.

The coffee shop is always full of digital nomads working on their laptops. I can never get a seat! 
Lots of digital nomads are moving from big, expensive cities to smaller, cheaper towns.


A man showing off by flexing his muscles

The original meaning of the verb "flex" is "to stretch or bend," particularly to show off muscles.

Similarly, the newest usage of flex basically means "brag." It can be used as a noun or as a verb.

Her Instagram account is nothing but exotic vacation flexes.

As a verb, it's often used with the preposition "on" before a person who is the object of the action.

Yuko flexed on everyone in our study group with her 970 TOEIC score.


Cringing is what people do with their bodies naturally when experiencing a scary or embarrassing situation. They may lower their heads or move back slightly, as if they are trying to protect themselves from pain. This original "cringe" is a verb.

The new use is as an adjective, and it refers to a very embarrassing or awkward situation. 

That politician's speech was really cringe. He made so many stupid mistakes.

It is sometimes changed to "cringey" or "cringe-worthy."

I was so uncomfortable watching that movie — the final scene was so cringey. 

Review bomb

Sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp and even Amazon are popular places for people to share their opinions on things like movies, restaurants and products. But not everyone uses these sites honestly. Some people form groups that leave large amounts of very negative reviews in order to reduce the overall review score. They often do this because they dislike the person or company responsible for a product — it's not an actual review of the product itself. This is called "review bombing." 

It’s difficult to find reviews I can trust because of all the review bombing.
Her new book was review bombed because some people don't like her political ideas.


A young woman looking up from her phone with an annoyed expression on her face

The new meaning of "at" is mostly used online. But of course, that's where a lot of communication happens these days! Here it refers to mentioning a specific person on social media by placing an "@" sign before their name.

The most common way this is used is in the simple phrase "Don't at me!" In this case, it means "Don't try to argue with me because you don't like my opinion." It's often used when someone says something that is unpopular or that many people would not agree with.

"Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is the best kind of pizza. Don’t at me!"


A microtransaction is a small payment that you make in things like video games and apps. For example, some mobile games are free to download, but there may be microtransactions for things like new character costumes or special weapons. Microtransactions are sometimes shortened to the acronym “MTX.”

Jake spent $300 on microtransactions in his favorite mobile game last month!
Our app is free to download, so we make money from microtransactions.


The newest use of this word is also related to gaming. It's short for "specifications" and refers to customizing a character's appearance, weapons, abilities and items.

It takes me a long time to spec my character whenever I start a new game.

It's also used in a similar way to talk about customizing a PC or other kinds of machinery.

Speccing my PC will be pretty expensive, but it will be worth it.


You may know what "sci-fi" means, but do you know "cli-fi"? It's short for "climate fiction," which is a genre that has climate change as a major theme. It's mostly associated with books, but there are also cli-fi movies.

Even though the term is not very old, many books and films that were created before it became popular can also be called climate fiction.

I just finished reading a mystery novel, but my next book will be cli-fi. 
Some of these old climate fiction novels were really accurate in predicting the future.

Expand your vocabulary

Languages grow and change along with the cultures they are connected to. That means you can never be finished learning a language, even if you are a native speaker. Look for opportunities to try out these new words in your own conversations!

If you'd like to read about other words that are new to English dictionaries, check out some of the following Daily News articles:

Oxford English Dictionary Adds 1,400 New Words

455 New Words Added to Merriam-Webster Dictionary

'ICYMI,' 'Yeet' Among New Merriam-Webster Entries

Oxford English Dictionary Adds 26 Korean Words