You’ve seen it hundreds of times in your social media feeds. A never-ending GIF of a dumpster, on fire, in reference to some ongoing, seemingly chronic calamity: a sport team’s awful season, a tech firm’s catastrophic product launch, a presidential candidate’s chaotic campaign.
Now, you can use the term “dumpster fire” with renewed authority because Merriam-Webster added it — along with 850 other words and definitions — to its dictionary. Once reserved for use by sports radio hosts and social media hipsters, it now can emit from the lips and fingertips of the hip and unhip alike. Indeed, an entity as esteemed as the American Dialect Society deemed the phrase its word of the year for 2016.
The new official definition of dumpster fire is “an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurrence.” That’s how the phrase has been used since it first flickered into public consciousness about a decade ago. Merriam-Webster says its first known use occurred in 2008.
A writer at NPR called dumpster fire a “phrase for our time,” and she’s right. How else could you describe our bewildering era: when presidents pay off porn stars (and everybody shrugs) and we have to prepare for wicked storms called bomb cyclones and the NFL’s winless Cleveland Browns (0-16, baby!) earn the No. 1 seed in the draft, and then try to trade it away. That’s just crazy.
Yes, dumpster fire. You’ve more than earned your place in our national lexicon.
Here are some other words and definitions that Merriam-Webster just added:
Wordie — “a lover of words.” You mean that wasn’t already in there?
Embiggen — “to make bigger or more expansive.” Have to admit, we hadn’t heard of this one.
Blockchain — “a digital database containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network.” You can’t be one of those Bitcoin billionaires if you don’t understand the technology.
Harissa — “a spicy North African paste made from dried chilies, salt, oil, and other seasonings.” Mmmmm.
Kombucha — This one’s actually been around since 1944. It’s “a gelatinous mass of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts grown to produce a fermented beverage held to confer health benefits.” We’ll take two.
Mansplain — “to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.” In other words guys, just zip it.
Glamping — “outdoor camping with amenities and comforts.” ‘Cause there’s nothing like roughing it with a bed, electricity and indoor plumbing.
Unicorn — No, not THAT kind of unicorn. This new definition describes “a start-up that is valued at one billion dollars or more.” Wait, you can still be considered a start-up if you’re worth a billion bucks?