Another year, another barrage of memes and political events. This was a mixed bag of a year at best, full of inane slang, buzzwords and catchphrases that encapsulate some aspect of 2019’s inanity and chaos. These were words and terms that greatly influenced the way we discussed issues that affect our day-to-day lives, and without them we’d probably have a harder time talking about what makes our political climate. Or maybe not.
Some of these terms still hold currency. Others are overused, depending on who you ask. Maybe we’ll finally escape them in 2020, but for now they form part of the language of these last 12 months, lending color to real life conversations and our online exchanges .
Here’s a list of the buzzwords and phrases that defined 2019:
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I’m kind of piggybacking on Merriam-Webster’s judgment here, because this is their word of the year, and for good reason. Aside from the fact that these pronouns are words we use the most in our day to day lives, and the fact that searches for the terms have gone up by 313 percent in the past year, the relevance of the word has come to signify an important aspect of LGBT discourse: the reality of the non-binary experience. Just as there are gay and straight people, trans folks, intersex individuals and aces, there are also people who identify as neither man nor woman. And at this point, anybody who still insists that “they/them” only applies to plural nouns should just be dismissed as a pedant. Pay them no mind.
Used in a sentence: “My friend is non-binary, and I'd really appreciated it if you acknowledged them for who they are."
Oh, this is a good one. A real zeitgeist-definer. For years, old curmudgeonly blowhards have been piling on millennials for the most trivial BS, from killing the diamond industry to spending way too much on avocado toast at the cost of owning a home. The richest men in the world, who are wealthy precisely because they exploit their work forces, are all boomers, but fuck the youth right? Which is why “Ok, boomer” is so perfect—its deadpan dismissal, it’s swatting away a fly, it’s a third degree burn with a dash of class analysis. And it drives boomers completely bonkers to hear it. Learn to take a joke, gramps.
Boomer: Millennials are entitled snowflakes killing the diamond industry who only care about avocado toast!"
Youth: Ok, boomer.
Boomer: AAAAAAAA *pulls hair out*
Look. I don’t like that this word is here. And if it were up to me, we’d all just carry around gigantic Coleman thermoses. But there’s something about how climate change anxiety, the farce of responsible consumerism, the Klean Kanteen craze, and the impenetrable humor layers of TikTok have all come together to make the word “hydroflask” so semiotically high voltage that the mere thought of owning the object sends me into an existential stupor. It’s so dumb. I know we live in an ongoing apocalypse because an invention designed for us to carry water around without relying on plastic bottles is somehow an empty signifier of wealth or status. What fresh hell. Greta Thunberg didn’t cry truth to power in front of the United Nations for… for this.
Usage: “I need to do something about this planet-killing climate crisis! And I'm gonna start by buying a hydroflask, metal straws, and overpriced tote bags for groceries."
Oh my god. Let me tell you. When My Chemical Romance announced that they were reuniting, every scene kid who spent the mid-2000s blasting “Thank You For the Venom” on their iPod nanos had a fucking field day. There are better, more scholarly articles that can explain how the emo movement paved the way for the K-pop renaissance, or how a subculture that thrived on MySpace gave birth to a generation of young, extremely online cultural critics. So let me just say, in this year of our Lord 2019, emo’s never gonna die.
Usage: "My Chemical Romance, the gods of emo, will be touring next year. Looks like we're entering the Rawring 20s."
SCO PA TU MANAA
This is a Zambian phrase which asks about your opinion on a given subject. Most of the year we’ve seen people tweet “sco pa tu manaa” attached to an image or subject or issue, kind of like setting up your own freedom board on the internet. It’s innocuous and a little boring, but the popularity of “sco pa tu manaa” says a lot about how digital living is extremely, painfully defined by the ability to offer a hot take on something, anything. Is that all then? Is that the internet’s dead end?
Usage: This really only works in the context of a tweet.
Uh. How do I explain this to my coworkers. It just means clothes. It’s also a term used to normally describe a certain sartorial affect, one that highlights the artistic unusual-ness of both high fashion pieces and rare finds exhumed from your local ukay’s bargain bin. I’ve seen both Yeezy hypebeasts and indie yuppies boarding the jawnz train. It could be that the relevance of “jawnz” implies the steady decline of fast fashion’s popularity in the market. It could also be that such a decline highlights the importance of being a discerning consumer, one who believes that true style is defined not by spending power but by the caliber of one’s artistic eye. Or maybe it’s just a funny word. Let’s see if we carry this into 2020.
Usage: “Dude where's you get your jawnz"
"Well I got the Margiela coat for 5000 dollars and these wide legs acid wash jeans for 20 pesos."
We’d be here the whole day if we attempted to completely unpack how the internet has turned into a courtroom. But let’s try. Consider the #MeToo movement, and how justice for the victims who’ve come out to expose their abusers and assaulters rarely ever receive justice from the corrupt court of law, but from the allies who vindicate them in digital spaces. Consider as well how pedants insist men can’t so much comment on a woman’s appearance without getting angry-mobbed, but also the fact that men like Harvey Weinstein can still walk around freely, as if completely pardoned. Consider as well this year’s unrelenting spate of cases of sexual violence happening in the academe, from Ateneo De Manila University to the Iligan National Writers Workshop, and how the accused educators were so fiercely defended by those very institutions. I don’t know. To think of cancel culture is to reckon with these contradictions and look at them through the lens of justice. What I do know is, in our ongoing efforts to hold evil men accountable, we have to keep grappling with these contradictions. We can’t afford not to.
Usage: “Dude. Did you hear? Generic celebrity said something vaguely problematic!"
How did we get here, as a society? For a good part of the 90s and the aughts, pop culture treated Area 51 as a metonym of conspiracy and state secrecy. The government was keeping proof of aliens hidden from the populace, and only the truly mad knew the truth. Flash forward to today’s political climate where truer, more terrible conspiracies have been hoisted into the light: the Panama Papers, Wikileaks, ICE, Jeffrey Epstein. We’re actually at a point where society’s long-held feelings of being lied to by those in power are actually being vindicated, just in ways we didn’t expect. And then—and then—some schmuck makes a joke event page about storming Area 51 (“they can’t stop all of us,” was the battle cry). What a cultural moment that was—decades of accrued feelings of unrest, indignation, and the desire to mass organize and wreck shit, condensed into a meme. Of course the storm never pushed through. And there are still ignorant sheeple. What great symbol of conspiracy do we bring back next to inspire us to unite against evil? The Illuminati pyramid eye? The Freemasons?
Usage: “Storm Area 51, they can't stop all of us."
It seems like an eternity ago—the passage of time, and the times we live in, are strange like that—but earlier this year, Marvel Studios came out with Avengers: Endgame, the cinematic culmination of all the world-building the Marvel Cinematic Universe since before this decade even began. For a long time, it seemed like the superhero genre was gentrifying every square inch of the pop culture landscape. Capes and cowls were inescapable. And then the movie came out. It was amazing. And then there was that whole brouhaha about Martin Scorsese saying that Marvel films weren’t cinema. And then… that was it. The idea of Marvel moving into their next cinematic phase exhausts more than it excites, and the honor of movie of the year shouldn’t go to Endgame, but to Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece, Parasite. So including “Marvel” in our list of words/terms of the year is just our way of softly saying goodbye. Thanks for the fun times, Marvel. Let’s move on to new things.
Usage: “Marvel movies are not cinema."
Illustrations by Chris Clemente