Oxford researchers investigate just what vaping means to us

Written by || 14 August, 2014 || Business news analysis |

dictionary - Caleb RoenigkThere’s concern that young people may take up vaping as a less harmful alternative to smoking.

That’s not a new idea – indeed, it’s one of the biggest concerns voiced by proponents of stringent e-cigarette regulation.

But it is a new quotation for Oxford Dictionaries, where it’s employed to illustrate usage of the term “vape”, which has just become one of the latest additions to the vast list of words widely regarded as the most complete portrayal of the English language.

“Vape” and the other newcomers “are words that are common enough that you are likely to encounter them, and may have to look up their meanings”, Oxford Dictionaries editor Katherine Martin was quoted as saying.

“The trend of e-cigarettes has created a sort of vocabulary around it,” she said.

Oxford Dictionaries researchers, who continually scour a huge and eclectic range of documents and other texts in search of new words, believe that usage of “vape” and “e-cig” has increased about ten-fold in the past couple of years.

“Electronic cigarette” was accepted by Oxford in 2012 as sufficiently widely used to justify a dictionary entry, and “vape” now joins it. Despite common belief, the main criterion for inclusion, and the principal basis of definitions, is usage; the dictionary’s editors aren’t endorsing a word or its definition as “correct English”.

  • “Vape” is defined as a verb, to “inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device”, which can either take an object (as in he vaped an e-cig) or not (she was vaping).
  • It is also defined as a noun, a usage which many in the e-cig world will feel is less common: “an electronic cigarette or similar device” (the Oxford example is I’ve been using a vape now for 15 weeks), or “an act of inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device” (my cravings went away as soon as I took a vape).
  • Surprisingly, its origin is stated to be as early as the 1980s, “in reference to an experimental ‘non-combustible’ cigarette”. Less startlingly, it is described as an “abbreviation of vapour or vaporize”.
  • Other new terms which join “vape” in the online version of the Oxford dictionary of British and world English (but may or may not be included in the next printed edition) include “clickbait”, “geocache”, and “listicle”.
  • And if you wondered what a listicle is, this became one halfway through – an article in the form of a bullet-pointed list.

What This Means: Along with terms that have sprung from the ever-developing Internet culture, neologisms like “bank of mum and dad” and “binge-watch” on Oxford’s list of new additions paint a vivid picture of 2014’s problems and preoccupations.

That “vape” now joins them is a testimony to the product category’s emergence from obscurity into the mainstream, but Oxford may soon have to revise its definition of “e-cigarette”: “A cigarette-shaped device containing a nicotine-based liquid that is vaporized and inhaled, used to simulate the experience of smoking tobacco.”

As so often, the world is changing even faster than today’s speeded-up compilation of dictionaries.

– Barnaby Page ECigIntelligence staff

Photo: Caleb Roenigk