TIME Crime

Toy Guns Create Deadly Problems for Police

This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice, 12.
This undated photo provided by the family's attorney shows Tamir Rice, 12. AP

A 12-year-old was killed by Cleveland police after they mistook his novelty gun for a real one in a public park

It’s a tragic story that is all too familiar. This one began on Nov. 22, when a 12-year-old boy named Tamir Rice was playing in a Cleveland park and waving what appeared to be a weapon. Someone called the police and reported that “a guy with a gun was pointing it at people,” but noted that the gun was “probably fake.” According to local news reports, some of that information may not have been passed on to the officers who were dispatched to the scene, who had been told to respond to “a male with a gun threatening people.”

Here’s what happened next, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

They responded and saw the boy pick up what they thought was a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Officers drew their weapons and told the boy to raise his hands. Instead, he lifted his shirt and reached for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. He pulled out the gun, and the officer opened fire, shooting twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Rice died from the officers’ shots. It turns out what he had in his waistband was a BB-type novelty gun with the orange safety cap removed. The Cleveland police department, which said the toy was “indistinguishable” from a real gun, according to the New York Times, is investigating the shooting. The officers who responded have been put on administrative leave.

Rice’s death is the most recent example of what can happen when police mistake a play weapon for a real firearm. Last year, police officers in Santa Rosa, Calif. fatally shot a 13-year-old named Andy Lopez while he walking to a friend’s house — carrying what appeared to be an AK-47 assault rifle, but which was actually an airsoft gun that didn’t have the legally required orange marker. Lopez’ death, which led to several protests months after his death, helped gather support for a new law that changed how airsoft and BB guns are regulated in California, requiring that their entire exterior surface be painted a bright color or feature salient fluorescent strips.

On Sunday, an Ohio lawmaker announced that she would introduce similar legislation in the wake of Rice’s death. “With Saturday’s deadly shooting of a 12-year-old in Cleveland, it is becoming crystal clear that we need this law in Ohio,” State Representative Alicia Reece said in a press release, “to prevent future deadly confrontations with someone who clearly presents little to no immediate threat or danger.”

Rice’s death comes just months after a 22-year-old was fatally shot in an Ohio Walmart when police mistook an air rifle he was holding for a deadly weapon. In 2012, Texas police fatally shot an eighth-grader who had a pellet gun that resembled a Glock. The year before, Miami police shot and killed a 57-year old man who had a realistic replica gun after getting 9-1-1 calls about the ostensible weapon.

The federal government doesn’t keep ongoing statistics on the trend but, in a 1990 paper funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police reported they had used or threatened to use force “in a confrontation where an imitation gun had been mistaken for a real firearm,” at a rate of about 200 incidents per year. The paper’s authors suggested this number was “significantly underreported.”

A series of toy gun-related deaths in the late 80s helped pass the federal amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Bob Dole, requiring all toy, “look-alike” or imitation firearms to have a bright orange plug or other salient marking. But manufacturers don’t always adhere to required standards and, as in Rice’s case, markings can be altered or removed. Part of the appeal of imitation guns for some buyers, too, is that they look and feel like the real thing. “Best part about this rifle is the recoil felt when firing the gun,” reads the description of one product on an airsoft company website. “Each shot is accompanied by a satisfying solid jolt.”

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Imitation Firearm Safety Act in September. “A toy should look like a toy and not a lethal weapon,” said State Senator Noreen Evans, a joint-author of the legislation who represents the Santa Rosa area. “Currently these copycat toys are manufactured to be virtually indistinguishable from real firearms. Toys should not get a child killed.” After news of Rice’s death over the weekend, another one of the bill’s authors, State Senator Kevin de Leon, said that he hopes other states follow suit: “The two recent tragedies in Ohio are unfortunate examples of a trend we will continue to see unless we change our laws to make imitation guns distinguishable from real firearms.”

Law enforcement officials stress that kids or adults who have imitation firearms may not grasp how much danger the play guns can put them in when members of the public or authorities see them. “We’re not trained to shoot people in the leg,” Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer told the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “If we pull that trigger, we feel our lives are in danger.”

Speaking to TIME after Lopez’ death, a former federal law enforcement officer said police often have to make decisions based on first impressions. “In a stressful situation where it’s a question of using deadly force, you are not going to be able to get close enough to give a detailed inspection,” says Jim Yurgealitis, a former agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, who worked the streets of Baltimore for more than a decade. “Officers have to make a decision in milliseconds and everybody can second guess it.”

TIME Transportation

Taxi App CEO: Uber Is an ‘A–Hole’

136011080
View of taxi board Thomas Bonfert—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Rakesh Mathur wants to help cab drivers disrupt the disruptors

As Uber weathered a storm of bad publicity this week, a relatively small competitor put a new CEO at the helm. Rakesh Mathur is a serial company-founder who worked at Amazon after it bought his e-commerce startup Junglee. He’s now running Flywheel, an e-hailing app that everyday taxi drivers can use to pick up smartphone users and fight back against the disruptors.

Flywheel is in a mere three cities, compared to Uber’s 220 worldwide. And while the company just announced $12 million in funding, Uber is raising rounds by the billion. TIME spoke to Mathur about privacy, the pros and cons of Uber’s creative destruction and how the company plans to take over America despite the competition.

TIME: In a recent email, one of your company representatives described Flywheel as the “non-a–hole” alternative to Uber. Can you comment on that positioning?

Mathur: I think the last couple of days have been pretty shocking, right? Where you’re not just being told, “Hey, I know how to violate your privacy. I do that all the time. But I’m even worse than the [National Security Agency]. I’m going to take that information and do bad things to you.” I think a–hole is probably a mild word. And the fact that across the organization they feel so open using things like their God View, where you can see anybody who rides in an Uber car. Every driver that drives for Uber is tainted.

These transportation startups generally have the ability to know where their drivers are and where customers are needing to be picked up. What is your policy at Flywheel about who has access to that information and when?

It exists for some complaint or something that we’re solving, like disputing a fare. Certainly we can collect all the data on trends, so we know where demands are peaking and so forth . . . No one should have access to this information. It shouldn’t be called out. It should be available to solve consumer-initiated complaints. I don’t think monitoring individual information about people’s individual rides is something that is anybody’s right to know.

How do you see Lyft as a competitor that is different from Uber?

Their corporate philosophy projects as a lot kinder, gentler. Lyft is every bit as fierce a competitor.

Do you see Uber as a more direct competitor, more similar to a taxi service than Lyft, where riders are invited to sit in the front seat and chat?

We don’t need to obsess about Uber and Lyft beyond a certain point. Our primary job right now is to get into this huge supply that is available to us. And that’s going to keep us busy for a few years, making sure we are in all the cabs in America. I would liken worrying to much about Uber and Lyft to driving by looking in the rearview mirror.

What are your plans for expansion?

There’s so much inbound interest right now from markets all over the country. We’re going through them and figuring out which of the fleets in which markets give us critical mass. There’s also a lot of interest from software service providers within the taxi industry. So we’ve got our plate full.

We do you think you’ll go next?

We’re in San Francisco. We have toeholds in Seattle and Los Angeles. And in the next three-to-six months, we should be in many of the bigger cities in the United States.

Are we talking another three cities? Another dozen?

More like another dozen than another three.

I know you said you try to keep Uber in the rearview mirror, but how do you compete with a service that is raising funds a billion dollars at a time?

In terms of capital, I’ve built multiple companies. In the past 20 years, I’ve sold six companies. I’ve got pretty deep connections in the venture, finance and angel world. With any luck, we’re going to raise all the capital we need. The other part is that if I had $100 million right now and I felt compelled to spend it, I could make some terrible mistakes that I haven’t thought through. And it’s very hard to scale back.

You have a lot of advantages in leveraging the already-existing taxi industry. No surge pricing. Allies in some transportation authorities. You may have an easier time getting legal access to airports. What do you see as your key advantage?

Taxi companies offer a more safe and knowledgeable environment. Safe, as in taxi drivers, for all the insults that are hurled at them, have to go through fingerprinting and checks against national databases, including the FBI’s. The standard Uber or Lyft driver is, maybe, slightly more checked out than the general population. I’m fiercely concerned about how unsafe the unregulated part of the industry is. And in many to most instances, you’re dealing with people who know their city very well if you’re dealing with a taxi. . . . It’s a regulated industry with a huge supply. We don’t have to recruit supply. It’s a more stable model.

What do you see as your disadvantage in the market?

At an overall level, the regulatory system is a dual-edged sword . . . We’re on the right side of the law everywhere. That said, we don’t feel that it would make any sense to come up with rules to govern how we price, how we behave, et cetera. To the extent that regulators want to try to regulate us, that would be a bad thing.

How do you plan, as a new CEO, to do things differently at the company?

My main charter is scaling, to make sure that the technology that worked in San Francisco is applicable and scales, all while eliminating things like ridestacking [when drivers accept a ride through the app and then pick up a street hail], more integration with other systems inside the cab, making it much more bullet-proof and delightful for the consumer. The other part of it is dealing with the ecosystem in a very aggressive way and making sure our deployment into all the cabs in America goes as fast as possible.

Before they had this new competition, were taxi companies too lax in customer service?

Absolutely. Uber has been a godsend for the taxi industry. They’re starting to realize who they serve, the person who gets into the taxi. The service levels have gone up. The importance of hailing from a smartphone has been recognized. I think they’ve also unified the taxi industry. It’s been good for the taxi industry. Uber and Lyft have delivered very valuable service to everybody, despite the fact that one of them seems to be a company that only has sharp elbows.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

TIME Culture

This is What Intersex Means

A brief introduction to the word

A longer version of LGBT is LGBTQQIA, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allies. The last few letters tend to get far less attention than the first, but a woman who claimed she was dating the Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps at the time of his DUI recently has raised interest in the “I.”

“The truth is I have been living with secrets my whole life,” Taylor Lianne Chandler wrote on Facebook on Nov. 13. “I was born intersex and named David Roy Fitch at birth.”

Intersex is a term that refers to someone whose anatomy or genetics at birth—the X and Y chromosomes that are usually XX for women and XY for men—do not correspond to the typical expectations for either sex. The “I” is distinct from the “T” for transgender people, who are typically born with a biological sex that fits the norm for male or female and then grow up to identify with the opposite gender. Intersex babies are not obviously male or female to begin with, according to society’s general rules about what one’s physical characteristics and chromosomal makeup are supposed to signify.

As University of Oregon professor and intersex expert Elizabeth Reis writes in her book Bodies in Doubt, “In the United States and most other places, humans are men or they are women; they may not be neither or both. Yet not all bodies are clearly male or female.” That may mean a child has typical female chromosomes and ovaries but external bodies parts of a male. Or it could mean the body parts that a doctor typically looks to when declaring a baby to be a girl or boy are incompletely formed, or ambiguous. Sometimes it’s clear in the delivery room, sometimes intersex people don’t become aware of their status until they are teenagers and puberty doesn’t happen as expected.

Performing surgery on an intersex baby is controversial. In South Carolina, the parents of an adopted intersex child are suing a hospital and its employees for surgically assigning “M.C.’s” sex as female at 16-months-old. Now around 10 years old, the child identifies as a boy. “Genital ‘normalizing’ surgery does not create or cement a gender identity; it just takes tissue away that the patient may want later,” writes the Intersex Society of North America in their position statement. Some in the intersex community choose not to have any medically unnecessary surgeries to change how they were born, even after they are old enough to identify their own gender and sexual orientation.

Though it’s hard to say exactly how common being intersex is (since it’s debatable which people belong under that umbrella term), medical experts say that genital anomalies occur in about 1 in 2,000 babies.

It’s worth noting that the word hermaphrodite is considered insensitive and stigmatizing by many who see it as “vague, demeaning, and sensationalistic, conjuring mythic images of monsters and freaks,” as Reis writes. Some parents have also balked at the word intersex, pushed by activists in the 1990s, feeling it suggests their child has a third gender and can not be a girl or a boy. In the medical establishment, the wide variety of conditions that might be referred to as intersex are typically referred to as disorders of sex development. Reis has advocated shifting that to divergence of sex development, to avoid the connotations of disorder, much as gender identity disorder was rebranded gender dysphoria by medical professionals addressing transgender people.

TIME health

New Crisis Line Aims to Help Transgender People at Risk of Suicide

On 2014's annual day of remembrance for transgender victims of violence, a new hotline is ready to field calls

On Nov. 20, people are gathering at events around the nation to read names of transgender people who have died in the past year in violent crimes. The descriptions on the website for the occasion, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, are chilling: “massive trauma, found dead in an alley,” “murdered and burned,” “gunshot to the back.” Transgender people, particularly transgender women, are subject to high rates of violence and harassment. A 2013 report found that 72% of homicide victims in LGBT-related hate crimes were transgender women of color.

On this somber day, an organization based in the Bay Area is trying to get the word out that there’s a new resource available to fight what may be an even deadlier problem among transgender people: suicide.

According to the most definitive report on transgender issues in recent years, 41% of transgender people attempt to commit suicide, a statistic that doesn’t necessarily factor in successful attempts. That’s a number that the people behind Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860), a crisis hotline staffed entirely by transgender people, want to see decreased.

“There are a ton of suicide hotlines. There’s no shortage of them,” says Greta Martela, a software engineer and president of the organization that went live this month. “But it’s really difficult to get a person who isn’t trans to understand what it’s like to be trans.”

Empathy is a powerful emotion for people attempting to come to terms with being transgender. Many transgender people say they only had the courage to come out once they met someone else who was living a happy life as an openly transgender person, people Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox calls “possibility models.”

Martela came out last year, as a 44-year-old parent. Before she did, she was plagued by anxiety and debilitating panic attacks. In the process of coming out, she called a suicide hotline. A man answered the phone, she says, and when she explained the trouble she was having, he just went quiet and told her to go to the hospital. “They had no idea how to deal with a trans woman,” she says. And when she got to the hospital seeking help, she had to explain what being transgender was to the hospital staff.

Her aim is to get people in crisis—whether that person is a suicidal, closeted teenager or the confused parent of a six-year-old—access to volunteers who can understand what they’re going through right away and direct them to more help wherever they are. “Those are the people I want to call the most,” Martela says of parents who are trying to understand what a child is going through. “Getting them good resources could spare their child a lifetime of pain.”

Right now, the corporation—which has applied for status as a non-profit—is a shoestring operation, fueled by open source software that allows Trans Lifeline to funnel calls to on-duty volunteers wherever they are. They’re raising funds for advertising to get their number out there, to people like Martela who couldn’t find anything like the hotline when she needed it. “There’s a body count associated with people not accepting trans people,” Martela told TIME in a previous interview for a cover story on transgender issues. “It’s costing lives.”

TIME Transportation

Looking for a Ride? Here’s a List of Uber Alternatives

140529_FF_NerdWallet_Lyft_1
A Lyft car operates in San Francisco. courtesy of Lyft

A lot of companies want to be your driver

Uber has lost some users this week following stories about executives proposing opposition research on critical journalists’ personal lives and tracking a journalist’s use of the service without her permission. Some customers publicly ended their relationship with the company via social media, including humorist-actor-author John Hodgman. “I really don’t want to take that crummy car I was so glad to hang up on two years ago,” he wrote in a post about his decision to delete the app. “But I just can’t get into a car with those guys anymore.”

If you live in certain parts of the world, you might not even have Uber available as an option to walk away from. And you may have no intention of quitting Uber at all, continuing to love the service that is leading the revolution of local transportation around the world, providing an on-demand alternative to calling up a old-fashioned taxi cab dispatcher.

But for those out there into trying new things, here are some of the other players on the road offering smartphone-enabled rides from A to B:

Lyft: The San-Francisco based ridesharing company is the friendly neighbor to Uber’s cool chauffeur. Drivers use their personal cars, grilles adorned with signature pink mustaches, and invite users to sit in the front seat, often offering a fist bump as a greeting. The company has rolled out three additional services, Lyft Plus (fancy SUV version), Lyft Line (carpooling version) and Lyft for Work (commuting version). Lyft operates in about 60 U.S. cities, compared to Uber’s 220 worldwide. In some cities, like New York, Lyft functions very similarly to Uber.

Sidecar: This ridesharing company, also based in the Bay Area, promises the “lowest prices on the road.” Available in 10 major U.S. cities, Sidecar aims to match riders with “everyday people” driving their personal cars. But unlike other services that rack up a fare as you go, Sidecar asks riders to enter their destination and offers a selection of pre-set prices, along with ETAs, which the rider can choose from. The company also offers a cheaper “Shared Rides” carpooling option like Lyft Line and Uber Pool.

Flywheel: Taxi companies are using apps like Flywheel to re-disrupt the disruptors. Currently in San Francisco, L.A. and Seattle, Flywheel allows users to order a taxi on-demand and have payments made automatically through the app. The ride likely won’t be as fancy as an Uber black car or as cheap as an UberX, but there’s no surge pricing and the company is brokering deals to allow scheduled rides to airports, places where ridesharing companies are typically non grata.

Curb: In August, Taxi Magic launched as the rebranded Curb, broadening their focus beyond providing licensed taxis on-demand to include fancier cars-for-hire (like Uber black cars) in some of the 60 markets where Taxi Magic was already working with fleets. Unlike most of the other app-based services, customers have the option of paying with cash rather than through the app. The refreshed company is also working on launching pre-scheduled rides, to the airport and beyond.

Hailo: Another e-hail company that works with licensed cabs, Hailo is focused on the European market, having launched in London in 2011. (betrayed by their slogan, “the black cab app.”) In October, the company announced it would be closing operations in U.S. cities like New York, Chicago and Boston, shifting their eye to growth in Asia and, perhaps, re-entering the U.S. market in a few years. In September, the company launched an innovative feature that allows users to pay for the bill in a street-hailed taxi through the app.

Summon: The rebranded and overhauled InstaCab, Summon is an on-demand service that has a hybrid approach, offering both taxi e-hails and cheaper peer-to-peer “personal rides” with a no-surge-price promise. Summon is currently available only in the Bay Area, but the company said earlier this year they plan to expand to L.A., Boston and New York. The startup offers pre-scheduled rides through their Summon Ahead program, including fixed-rate rides to surrounding airports, with a journey to San Francisco’s SFO costing a mere $35.

RubyRide: Based in Phoenix, Ariz., and founded in 2013, RubyRide is a fledgling subscription-based startup that bills itself less as a taxi replacement and more as a replacement for owning a car. A basic plan that allows unlimited pre-scheduled pickups and drop-offs within certain “zones” like Downtown Phoenix costs $299 per month. The company offers limited on-demand service but plans to expand their options—including replacing rides to and from the dry cleaners, say, with delivering members’ dry cleaning—as they grow.

Shuddle: Dubbed “Uber for kids,” this San Francisco startup positions itself as an app for lightening Mom’s load. Parents can pre-book rides to take kids (who aren’t old enough to drive themselves) to sports practice or school. With safety the obvious concern, the company institutes layers of checks beyond thoroughly screening employees: drivers are given passwords they have to use before picking up kids; parents are given photos of the drivers and cars and can monitor the trip through their app. Drivers must have their own kids or have worked with kids. The company’s first 100 drivers, which they call “caregivers,” are all female.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What You Should Know About Going Gluten-Free

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving
In this Saturday Nov. 23, 2013 photo, Laura Hoffmann, shift manager at Festival Foods in Sheboygan, Wis., makes sure the gluten free products are in their proper spot on the shelves. Gary C. Klein — AP

An exclusive TIME survey conducted by My Fitness Pal reveals the majority of gluten-avoiders may have a false impression of the protein

The market for gluten-free products is rising like bread in an oven—assuming that bread is rising really, really fast.

Shoppers are now spending nearly $9 billion per year to get gluten out of their groceries, up more than 60% from 2012, according to the consumer research firm Mintel. That’s more than Americans spend each year celebrating Halloween and twice the amount shelled out in the 2014 election.

The explosion, which analysts predict will continue, has been both great and not so great for the roughly 1% of people who have celiac disease. The rise has also been driven by some misconceptions among people who don’t need to avoid gluten at all. (You can see what five nutritionists have to say about gluten-free bread here.)

To find out more about the trend, TIME teamed up with My Fitness Pal, who surveyed 1,800 of their users. Here are the results, along with commentary from gluten experts.

Of the 1,800 people surveyed by My Fitness Pal, 13% had tried a gluten-free diet.

And 27% had shopped for gluten-free products.

My Fitness Pal users are not necessarily representative of the American population. They may be more health-conscious or more into fashionable foods. But more than a quarter of the users shopping for gluten-free products suggests the market is growing, particularly in certain segments of the population. Last year, Mintel reported that just 15% of Americans said they ate gluten-free foods. “We’ve seen exponential growth every year that we’ve written a report,” says Mintel food analyst Amanda Topper. “This huge health halo is the majority of what’s driving it.”

Of those who had incorporated gluten-free products into their diet, only 14% reported having a gluten allergy. Far more respondents heard it was healthier, or wanted to lose weight.

Celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders, like juvenile diabetes, are on the rise, says Dr. Stefano Guandalini, a celiac specialist at University of Chicago. And the diagnosis process for celiac has become much more sophisticated over the past decade, so there are more people out there who have health reasons for seeking out gluten-free products. For those with the disease, gluten causes serious problems. Celiac sufferers can get sick, for example, just from using a utensil like a kitchen knife that came in contact with gluten.

But the majority of shoppers throwing gluten-free bread in their bags do not need to avoid that generally harmless protein and are not healthier for doing so, he says. If a person drops gluten from their diet by dropping the carb-packed foods it’s in, they might think they’re losing weight because they’re not eating gluten, he says. But it’s really because they’re not eating as many calories and carbs as they were before. People who swap out their old bread for gluten-free bread, he says, aren’t on a path to weight loss and may actually be getting fewer nutrients in their diet.

“There is no proven clinical health advantage in going gluten-free,” he says. The idea that gluten causes obesity, he says, is “science fiction.” He points to Italy as supporting evidence, where residents consume twice the amount of wheat-based products that U.S. residents do and have an obesity rate of about 10%, compared to the U.S. rate of 35%.

Only 53% of those shopping for gluten-free products went so far as to try gluten-free options at a restaurant.

August 2014 was a big month for celiac sufferers. That’s when a final rule from the Food and Drug Administration went into effect, setting rules for what “gluten-free” on a label actually means. But the FDA rule does not apply to food coming out of restaurant kitchens, where gluten-free items are on increasingly on the menu. More than 10% of My Fitness Pal users said they had incorporated gluten-free foods into their diet simply because they were popular, and those people won’t be hurt if restaurants are a little careless with their labels—but celiac patients will. “The attention restaurant owners pay to gluten-free needs has actually decreased,” Guandalini says, because those owners may think someone is ordering a dish to be trendy, not because they have a strict dietary restriction. “The increased popularity of the diet, if not entire menus, has become a little bit risky.”

Still, the enormous increase in options that celiac sufferers like his patients now have because of the gluten-free craze is, generally, a culinary windfall. “They are enjoying a bonanza of these products,” Guandalini says. “They are smiling much more than they did before.”

TIME language

Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year Is ‘Exposure’

89001431
Colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of the Ebola virus. Kallista Images — Getty Images/Kallista Images

The editors found their inspiration by connecting the big new stories of the year

Ebola. Ferguson, Mo. Ray Rice. ISIS. Data breaches. Nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence. The editors and lexicographers at Dictionary.com see all these people and places that drove the news in 2014 connected through a single word: exposure, their pick for 2014’s word of the year.

In making their choice, the editors are drawing on the word’s many layers of meaning. Exposure can define the condition of being exposed to harm, in the form of a virus like Ebola or hacks that compromise consumer data. Exposure can refer to publicity, the good kind that made the ALS ice bucket challenge so successful or the bad kind that resulted in Donald Sterling selling the L.A. Clippers. Exposure can mean bringing something to light, like the details of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown or the video of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. It can even operate on two levels, like when private selfies that expose a naked body are exposed to the public.

“This year was full of important stories and really somber events. There was the Ebola outbreak. There was ISIS. The stakes felt really high, and we wanted to reflect that in our selection,” says Senior Editor Renae Hurlbutt. “The word circles around these two themes of visibility and vulnerability, which were at play in all of the top news stories in 2014.”

Ebola is the obvious headliner that justifies “exposure” and first drew them to the word, but the Dictionary.com editors also wanted to capture the way controversial events had, less simply, exposed attitudes and opinions about big issues like race and violence in America. “Exposure was really a catalyst for a lot of these feelings of tumult and upheaval,” Hurlbutt says.

To choose the word, the editors started scouring headlines in September, using Google Trends (which shows volumes of searches for certain words or phrases over time) and mining their own data to see which words spiked into the public consciousness. This “year end exercise,” the editors say, helps their lexicographers decide which words need to be updated and provides a pool of candidates for word of the year. But in the end, the winner that goes in the word-of-the-year envelope is an editorial choice, unlike outlets like Merriam-Webster, which bases their yet-to-be-announced “WOTY” almost exclusively on lookup statistics.

“It’s us putting a marker in the ground every year that we can eventually look back on and think about,” says Dictionary.com Director of Content Rebekah Otto. Dictionary.com got into the word-anointing game in 2010, about 20 years after the modern trend began, in part because the now 19-year-old company had recently launched a blog to bring their staff into a dialogue with the public. This selection follows change (2010), tergiversate (2011), bluster (2012) and privacy (2013).

“The calendar is a comfortable way to mark and honor the passage of time,” Otto says. “That’s a big part of why we choose a word of the year.”

Also on the editors short list were borders, disrupt, wearables and bae. Borders had roots in Ukraine. Wearables, the editors say, felt early (and might be a better candidate for 2015). Disrupt was a word they wanted to represent an array of stories but felt the associations with startup culture would eclipse everything else. And bae was a buzzword that didn’t have the weight or broadness they were looking for.

“The things that happened in 2014 and the multiple meanings behind exposure just were so in sync,” says CEO Michele Turner.

On Nov. 17, Oxford declared vape as their word of the year. And there are more yet to come. In the meantime, here’s a video Dictionary.com made to commemorate their choice.

Dictionary.com’s 2014 Word of the Year from Dictionary.com on Vimeo.

TIME language

See Every ‘Word of the Year’ in One Chart

From 'Not!' to 'w00t' and everything in between

Every year, from autumn through January, the world enjoys a very special season: institutions selecting their respective words of the year, one after the other, in a glorious parade (for unabashed nerds like the author of this article). The modern tradition, as TIME explains, was started in 1990 by the American Dialect Society. Later, major dictionaries like Oxford, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com joined the show.

Below, we’ve compiled a graphic showing the historical record that is every single one of their past picks, each of which is like a little time capsule for what was on people’s minds or in people’s lives that year. There are lesser known outlets whose picks we haven’t included, and it’s worth noting that some dictionary publishers have decided not to take part in the frenzy at all. “As the years went on, more and more companies did a word of the year thing,” Steve Kleinedler, executive editor of American Heritage Dictionaries says. “We didn’t want to be yet another voice jumping on the bandwagon.”

Here’s the trail that the increasingly crowded “WOTY” bandwagon has tread for the past quarter century.

words of the year list
Bronson Stamp for TIME

Read about Oxford’s 2014 Word of the Year: Vape

TIME language

Clickbait, Normcore, Mansplain: Runners-Up for Oxford’s Word of the Year

500047967
The expression displayed by the women in this stock photo is sometimes described as a duck face. JGI/Jamie Grill — Getty Images/Blend Images

Here are the words that Oxford editors would like to give a hearty round of recognition

On Nov. 17, Oxford announced that their word of the year for 2014 is “vape.” The venerable publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary also gave TIME three lists of candidates: the long list, the short list and the “blip list.”

The short list contains strong contenders that, had the linguistic winds blown a little differently, might have won the title. The long list contains solid candidates that editors found easier to cut. And the “blip list” is full of early favorites that editors watched fizzle in usage by the time their final votes came around in the autumn. Here is everything that had a chance, with most definitions taken or adapted from Oxford:

Winner

vape (v.): to inhale and exhale the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device

Short list

bae (n.): a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner, likely a shortening of baby or babe, though some theorize that it is an acronym for “before anyone else.”

budtender (n.): someone who works at a medical marijuana dispensary or retail marijuana shop.

contactless (adj.): describing technologies that allow a smart card, etc., to connect wirelessly to an electronic reader, typically in order to make a payment.

indyref (n.): an abbreviated form of Scotland’s failed referendum to declare independence from the United Kingdom.

normcore (n.): a fashion movement in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate statement.

slacktivist (n.): one who engages in digital activism on the Web which is regarded as requiring little time or involvement. Also slacktivism.

Long list

anti-vax (adj.): describing someone who is opposed to vaccination.

Brexit (n.): reference to the proposed exit of Britain from the E.U.

brogrammer (n.): a portmanteau of bro and programmer, which can describe a computer programmer with typically macho characteristics.

clickbait (n.): content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.

cybernat (n.): a term used to pejoratively refer to supporters of Scottish independence, especially those who express opinions online.

dronie (n.): a selfie taken from a camera attached to a flying drone.

duck face (n.): a (pejorative) term for a facial expression made by pressing one’s lips together into the shape of a duck’s bill, often performed in selfies.

Euromaidan (n.): a word attached to protests in Ukraine, often used to describe anti-government demonstrators.

frost quake (n.): a sudden, rapid freezing of ground in which frozen water can crack surrounding rock and soil, causing loud sounds.

hangry (adj): to experience both hunger and anger, often to be easily angered because of hunger or so hungry that one becomes angry.

mansplain (v.): to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.

microaggression (n.): brief and commonplace behaviors, intentional or unintentional, that convey hostility or insults toward another individual or group, particularly an ethnic group.

neuromorphic (adj): describing computing systems that mimic the human nervous system (and more complicated things).

polar vortex (n.): though many experts have debated the use of the term in the media, it describes a system of winds that circle one of the earth’s poles, the state of which can contribute to very cold temperatures.

poor door (n.): a separate door to a building meant to be used by people of a lower economic class, as in a luxury apartment building with a block of affordable units.

Blip list

Columbusing (n.): the act of appropriating, without acknowledgment, a cultural attribute associated with an ethnic group other than one’s own.

conscious uncoupling (n.): an approach to ending a marriage or romantic relationship which emphasizes acceptance of mutual responsibility.

ice bucket challenge (n.): a stunt in which a person films the act of dumping ice water on their head and uploads the video to social media, challenging a friend to do the same or donate to charity.

parcelcopter (n.): an unmanned aircraft used to deliver goods.

smugshrug (n.): an emoticon representing the face and arms of smiling person with hands raised in a shrugging gesture.

spornosexual (n.): a man who is extremely conscious of his appearance and devoted to cultivating a sexually attractive physique.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser