It's become a common sight in Colorado -- at Broncos games, in movie theaters and malls, in the bathrooms at bars and clubs, even behind high schools and in employee parking lots. People will quickly, slyly grab a device from their pocket that looks like a pen and put it to their mouth. Then, after just a tiny puff and the mere hint of the smell of pot or cigarette smoke, they'll put the device -- which doesn't get hot -- back into their pocket and go back to whatever they were doing.
The use of vape pens and e-cigarettes has been common for a while, but it caught on big in 2014 after recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado at the beginning of the year. So big, in fact, that Oxford Dictionaries chose "vape" as its word of the year for 2014.
Oxford notes that the word "originated as an abbreviation of vapour or vaporize," and, as a verb, means "to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device." "Vape" beat out "budtender" and "slacktivism," among other words, for the honor, and it's getting lots of play in end-of-the-year wrap-ups. (You may remember that "selfie" was the word of the year in 2013.)
Why was vape chosen? "As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vape has grown significantly in popularity," Oxford explains. "You are thirty times more likely to come across the word 'vape' than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year. Usage of 'vape' peaked in April 2014...around the time that the U.K.'s first 'vape cafe' (The Vape Lab in Shoreditch, London) opened its doors, and protests were held in response to New York City banning indoor vaping. In the same month, the issue of vaping was debated by the Washington Post, the BBC and the British newspaper The Telegraph, amongst others."
Here's what else the organization has to say: "'Vape' is also the modifier for other nouns, creating new compound nouns which are growing in popularity. The most common of these are vape pen and vape shop, and there is also recent evidence for vape lounge, vape fluid, vape juice, and others. Related coinages include e-juice, carto and vaporium -- as well as the retronym tobacco cigarette for traditional cigarettes." (A retronym is a new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish the original word from a later development -- for example, "acoustic guitar" developing after the advent of the electric guitar.)
"You may be surprised to learn that the word 'vaping' existed before the phenomenon," Oxford continues. "Although e-cigarettes weren't commercially available until the 21st century, a 1983 article in New Society entitled 'Why Do People Smoke?' contains the first known usage of the term. The author, Rob Stepney, described what was then a hypothetical device: '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.)' However, despite these early beginnings, Oxford Dictionaries research shows that it wasn't until 2009 that this sense of vape (and vaping) started to appear regularly in mainstream sources."
Which, not surprisingly, was exactly the time that the dispensary business began booming in Colorado. Another pot-related term was also in contention for top honors: "budtender," a noun describing "a person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop."
And the other runners-up?
• "Contactless," an adjective "relating to or involving technologies that allow a smart card, mobile phone, etc., to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader, typically in order to make a payment."
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• "Indyref," a noun that's an abbreviation of "independence referendum," referring to "the referendum on Scottish independence, held in Scotland on 18 September 2014, in which voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question 'Should Scotland be an independent country?'"
• "Normcore," a noun describing "a trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement."
• And "slacktivism," a noun referring to "informal actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website; a blend of 'slacker' and 'activism.'"
But when compared to the popularity of "vape," the hopes of all those other contenders went up in smoke.