Dictionary.com's New Words to the Wise

21 April, 2017

Welcome to another edition of Words to the Wise!

Languages, as you all know, are always changing. Last month, we learned about some new words that the American dictionary Merriam-Webster added to its online dictionary. They included conversational words like "photobomb" and "binge-watch," along with scientific words like propopagnosia.

Dictionary.com also announced it added new words to its online search system -- 300 of them to be exact. I have Anne Ball here with me in the Learning English studio. And we are going to explain and discuss some of these new additions. Hi, Anne.

Hey, Ashley.

Former President Barack Obama concludes his remarks -- with a
Former President Barack Obama concludes his remarks -- with a "mic drop" -- after speaking at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton in Washington, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

So, Anne, I know you looked into some of Dictionary.com's new word choices. What can you tell us about them?

Well, first, I can tell you that I can't tell you about some of the new words because they are...inappropriate to talk about on the air.

Uh oh! Well, let's only talk about the ones that are appropriate, or okay, for broadcast!

Well, of course. So, there are a lot of them. It would take a lot of effort and time to learn them all. You may feel like you are on the struggle bus if you try to study all of these new words at once!

Struggle bus? Are you describing a vehicle that is having trouble operating, or is this one of those new expressions?

Well, you've got that right, you guessed it! It's one of Dictionary.com's new entries. "Struggle bus" is a slang expression. It describes a situation that seems difficult or frustrating -- such as trying to learn 300 new words all at one time!

That would be difficult. You know, I feel like I am on the struggle bus today. It is probably because I didn't eat breakfast.

Oh! Are you serious? You didn't eat breakfast? Well, what you need now is a superfood. That is another of Dictionary.com's new words.

Superfood? That sounds like you might need to put a superhero's cape on your dinner table!

Well, not exactly! A superfood is any food that has a lot of vitamins and nutrients. It is very good for your health and helps your immune system. Some superfoods are kale, blueberries, and pomegranates. They're all delicious. And eating superfoods could help you "slay" the day.

Help me slay? That sounds a bit violent, Anne.

Well, yes. To "slay" literally means "to kill by violence." But, as a slang expression, "slay" means "to impress," or to do well and be successful.

I have actually heard that one before. People say it when someone says something really funny, too. For example, you might say "your joke slayed me!"

Yep! And, you know, if someone has a smart, or just really funny, response to someone, they might use another one of Dictionary.com's new phrases -- "mic drop!"

Okay. So "mic" is short for microphone, right?

Yes. A "mic drop," signals the end of a winning performance or even a statement. It means nothing can top -- or better -- what was just said or done.

Okay, so often it is done as a gesture, right?


A person will hold their hand out and pretend they're dropping a mic, or microphone. I remember former President Barack Obama did it at the end of an informal and funny speech he gave at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

I remember that. That's right. And the origin goes back to the 1980s. Competitive rap artists would drop the mic when they believed they had won the rap contest. And comedians, people who tell jokes, also would sometimes drop the mic at the end of a performance. [It's] kind of like saying, "I'm done."

Yeah, of a really good performance, probably. Well, so "mic drop" shows a lot of confidence.

Exactly. But a "mic drop" could lead to a smackdown.

Again with this violence! I have heard "smackdown" used to describe a fight or physical contest -- like a wrestling competition.

The verb "smack" does mean to hit someone or something with a lot of force. It kind of makes a sound, like [that.] But as a slang expression, a smackdown means a sharply critical comment. It might be hurtful to someone, or at least hurt their image!

So, it might be something you hear in American politics...

Oh, especially in the last election, definitely. In fact, a lot of the exchanges that President Trump and his then-rival Hillary Clinton had during those presidential debates that we all watched, were described by some people as a "smackdown."

Okay. I remember those well! Well, Anne, maybe we should end this Words to the Wise here, before one of us slays the other with a smackdown!

Oh, good one!

Maybe even a mic drop, right?

Wow. You may have seemed like you were on the struggle bus during this lesson, but you were definitely learning and paying attention!

I'm Anne Ball.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.


Words in This Story

inappropriate - adj. not right or suited for some purpose or situation

struggle bus - slang. a situation, task, etc., that seems difficult or frustrating

frustrating - adj. causing feelings of annoyance or anger

superfood - n. a food considered very good for one's health

slay - slang. to impress strongly, often by humor

mic drop - slang. 1) something, especially a statement or action, that displays confidence;2) the act of intentionally dropping one's microphone at the end of aspeech or performance, displaying a bold confidence that it has been very impressive or cannot be topped.

smackdown - slang. a severe criticism or defeat