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The 21 Best New Words of 2016

January 1, 2017

New ideas require new words. So if you want to know where change is happening, keep an eye on the language. Thats what author and artist Jonathon Keats has been doing in WIREDs Jargon Watch column for more than a decade. Each month, like a literary lepidopterist, he takes his butterfly net out to the wild verges of science, culture, technology—anywhere new frontiers are opening—to collect the most awesome new lexical specimens.

Now that 2016 is almost over, weve pulled together Keats’ best finds—the 21 most weird and wired words of the year. Well, make it 20 and a half; sadly, lemmium was officially quashed in November.

bio-albedo
The global-warming effect of a red algae that blooms in melting snow. The resulting pink hue reduces the albedo (reflectivity) of ice caps and glaciers, causing them to absorb more of the suns rays and melt even faster.

bitplain
A way of preserving digital data in perpetuity. By writing every biteach 0 or 1as tiny dots on metal tape, it eliminates all reliance on obsolescent devices or file formats. A future apocalypse survivor would need only a microscope and knowledge of binary code to piece your Instagram feed back together.

bompeln
Stoplights in the pavement, introduced in Germany for pedestrians who text while walking. A contraction of boden (ground) and ampeln (traffic lights), bompeln are said to help keep smombies (smartphone zombies) undead.

cannavaping
Administering medical marijuana with an e-cigarette. Its healthier than a joint and offers better dosage control than a brownie. Its also way less fun, requiring more than 80 hits to get stoned.

dark sunshine
The dark-matter equivalent of sunlight. The idea is, if dark particles in the sun collide, that may create dark photons. We wouldnt see them, but theres a good chance theyd decay into detectable positrons and electronsconfirma­tion that dark matter really exists.

galactic warming
Caused by blasts from supermassive black holes, which are found in the center of most galaxies, galactic warming makes things so hot that gases cant coalesce to form new stars. That could be how our own Milky Way burns out someday.

genetic superheroes
People who remain healthy despite having genetic mutations associated with serious disorders. Uncovering the secret to their resilience may suggest new ways of preventing and treating diseases.

holoportation
Virtual teleporting. By combining 3-D videocams and mixed-reality headsets, the system can shoot a full-body image of you and your every move to a boardroom (or bedroom) somewhere else.

HTTP 451
A new error code indicating a web page is blocked by censorship or a takedown notice. A reference to Ray Bradburys classic novel Fahrenheit 451, it can be used by sites to make a machine-readable political statement.

Jurassic butterflies
Ancient insects that looked and acted like modern butterflies. The weird thing is they went extinct, and nature evolved the same kind of creatures all over again 50 million years later. Its like butterflies were just meant to be.

lemmium
A proposed name for a new chemical element, honoring the late, legendary Lemmy Kilmister of Motrhead. Fittingly, element 115 is a volatile, superheavy metal. However, the word was short-lived; Russian scientists insisted on the name muscovium, which has since been approved by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). It joins an insipid litany at the bottom of the periodic table along with americium, berkelium, californium, europium, francium, livermorium, and tennessine.

megasupramolecules
A fuel additive that can prevent explosions in a plane or car crashsomething researchers have sought for 40 years. These ultralongpolymers break apart to pass through fuel pumps and filters but then reassemble. In an impact, the long chains keep fuel drops from fragmenting into a combustible mist.

optic boom
A flash produced when electrons move faster than light, akin to the boom of supersonic jets. Breaking the light barrier sounds like sci-fi, but physicists say it can happen in graphene sheets. The discovery could spark development of optical circuits a million times faster than silicon chips.

pedothems
Mineral layers that form around pebbles over thousands of years. Like tree rings, they hold a chronicle of climate conditions. From the Greek word for soil (pedon), pedothems are a dirt-cheap source of priceless data.

sequin
A snippet of synthetic, mirror-image DNA dropped into a genetic sample before sequencing. Genetic tests are error-prone, and sequins (short for sequencing spike-ins) provide a benchmark that labs can use to verify the accuracy of resultsa vital step for personalized medicine.

slingshot feeding
Hurling your mouth forward to eat something. Its not attractive, but the goblin shark, a flabby denizen of the deep sea, relies on this trick to make up for its pathetic swimming. Thanks to extra-long jaw ligaments, a 12-foot adult can shoot its teeth ahead by more than a foot.

social credit
A personal trustworthiness rating mandated by the Chinese government for implementation by 2020. A numerical score will be assigned to every Chinese citizen based on spending habits, social activities, and criminal record, determining employment opportunities and access to housing.

stentrode
An electrode array that can be slipped into a cranial blood vessel through a catheter. By transmitting brain signals, it could allow quadriplegics to operate an exoskeletonor finally let you change TV channels with your thoughts.

stomach tap
A surgically implanted tube and belly valve that lets you pump food out of your body after a meal. The FDA has approved it for weight loss, but not all physicians approve. One critic calls it mechanized bulimia.

teslaphoresis
A method of using a Tesla coil, ray-gun style, to manipulate matter from a distance. By projecting a high-voltage electric field, researchers have induced carbon nanotubes to self-assemble into tiny circuits.

Textalyzer
A device that would let cops test your phone to see if you were texting before a car crash. The ACLU is skeptical, but the only private information it gathers is whether or not you were willfully endangering lives.


Jonathan Keats (@jonathonkeats) writes the monthly Jargon Watch column in WIRED magazine. He is the author of five books, including Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2016/12/21-best-new-words-2016/

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