Woke and broccoli on the rise, fleek and fam falling fast

“She’s not as woke as I thought she was.” It happens all the time. A word or phrase catches you off guard in a casual conversation. You may have heard the word before, but not said like this. Or you hear a word you’ve never heard before, and must assign its meaning from context clues.

Ironically, after the new slang is introduced, you hear a woman use the word as she talks loudly on her cell phone. Then you hear your favorite bartender say it. Next thing you know your mother is slipping the new jargon into your weekly video chats.


The English language does not have a fixed vocabulary. There was no cut-off point when linguists said, “These are the words were going to use and here’s how we’re going to use them.”  In fact, we create new words all the time. So much so that it’s hard to keep up with the latest lingo.

Tracking the trends

The job of linguists is to listen and monitor those evolving speech patterns. Luckily, Google News Lab offers all the raw data needed on new words to stay “woke.”

As millions of people around the world become curious about the new words they hear, they enter “definition of ______” into Google, allowing the search engine to track the trends of newly popular sayings. For example in 2013, “selfie” was searched more than any other word.

But every star dies eventually. The internet popularity of  “selfie” peaked around the middle of 2014, making room for other popular searches like “definition of ‘turnt,’” “what does ‘fleek’ mean,” or “define ‘lowkey.’” Some of these frequently searched words are tied to pop culture references. Others rose in the grassroots style straight from the people’s tongues to the top of Google’s charts.

Behold the ten most-searched words of 2016:

  1.     Triggered

  2.     Shook

  3.     Juju

  4.     Broccoli

  5.     Woke

  6.     Holosexual

  7.     Shill

  8.     Gaslighting

  9.     Bigly

  10.   SJW (Social Justice Warrior)

Emerging words

Google considers these ten words “emerging words.” Or, they were not popular searches in 2015 but gained consistent interest in 2016. By the end of 2016, these ten words were as commonly searched as existing words in the English language.

In years past, these coveted spots went to words like “Felicia,” “slay,” and “Netflix and chill.” What is it about these words and sayings that propels them from irrelevant to definable? We can connect 2016’s batch of trendy words to everything from the American election to hip hop songs. I’d like to think hip hop artist D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” (released in 2016) had something to do with this vegetable’s historic rise to the top.


Image courtesy of: http://uk.complex.com/music/2016/04/dram-new-song-broccoli-feat-lil-yachty

Donald Trump’s use of “bigly” in the presidential debate against Hillary Clinton surely caused the internet’s interest in this fictional word. It is interesting to think that one person can say a word in a highly publicized context and the next thing you know the whole world is using it.  The explosion of this word taps into the satirical and critical way we think about language.

To some it may seem that these changes in languages are coming too fast and too soon. Does saying a word over and over again legitimize it? After all, people make language mistakes all the time, even in their mother tongue. Should we revere these mistakes?

For example, “irregardless” is such a common mistake that it Webster added the word to the dictionary. Webster’s Dictionary offers a disclaimer that this is a popularized word meaning “regardless.” However, the more a word is said, “irregardless” of if it’s wrong, the more accepted it becomes.

Using trends in SEO

How do we use this information to enhance and improve our content and readability? Google News Lab is an important tool for tracking trends in language. Relevant and frequently searched language are sure to enhance great content.

Including one of these emerging words as a keyword in your article’s SEO may help increase your traffic. SEO allows your articles to pop up more frequently and higher up on search engines, no matter the keyword or phrase. However, it’s just smart SEO to use a keyword that is already trending.


“Holosexual,” or a tendency so great it may as well be sensual towards holographic objects, also made the list. Examples like this show how we attach humor and satire to our word choices. What these words really show us is how the tradition of language adapts to express our ever-changing needs, desires, and interests.

It is telling that words like “juju” and “broccoli” owe their spot on Google News Lab’s list to the popularity of music.  When we love a song we have a desire to be privy to all the jargon and references the artist uses.

The lesson here is that great content encourages exploration and understanding. Great authors don’t shy away from using grandiose words because they have a certain faith in their readers. They bet on the assumption that enthusiastic readers do their own research.

Similarly, today’s artists take chances with their content. They include words, sounds, statements that may be unfamiliar or not yet popularized. Just think of Rihanna’s 2016 hit “Work.” People around the world are mumbling along to words they don’t fully understand. Why? Because the quality of the song has won them over.


Image courtesy of: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/7256322/rihanna-work-hot-100-fourth-week

Consumers are becoming more and more open to popularizing slang, made-up words, and even mistakes. Google News Lab offers data straight from the source on how people are making choices on- and offline. Staying “woke” to the word trends of 2017 could be what takes your content to the next level.

Anna Castellanos
Anna Castellanos is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She has a degree in the Spanish language and International Studies and an appetite for great works of literature. Find her skeptically reading ingredients of various packaged goods at a supermarket near you.
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