TIME language

Merriam-Webster Announces Its Word of the Year

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A.L. Christensen / Getty Images / Flickr Open

This word saw a big spike in lookups this year, for lots of good reasons

Culture.

That is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2014. If it sounds awfully broad, that is because the editors based in Springfield, Mass., rely more on hard data than feeling to choose their lexical time capsule. But this big idea, broken down into specifics, does a fine job of summing up the past year.

While Oxford chose vape for its connections to health and society, and Dictionary.com chose exposure to tie big news stories like Ebola and Ferguson together, Merriam-Webster settled on culture by figuring out which of their most popular words experienced the biggest spike in lookups this year.

Looking back to see what helped drive those lookups, the editors point out that “celebrity culture” and “rape culture” and “company culture” all had big years. “Culture is a word that we seem to be relying on more and more. It allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group with seriousness,” Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, said in a statement. “And it’s efficient: we talk about the ‘culture’ of a group rather than saying ‘the typical habits, attitudes, and behaviors’ of that group.”

In addition to the phrases Merriam-Webster points out, plenty of other brands of culture made headlines in 2014, including:

pop culture, consumer culture, military culture, culture wars, the “culture of free,” startup culture, cultural clashes, cultures of violence, cultures of silence, drug culture, Western culture, Scottish culture, surf culture, high culture, teenage culture, culture shocks, police culture, the NFL’s culture, media culture and hookup culture.

Other words that saw big lookup spikes this year, each with their own connections to what was going on in American culture, were nostalgia (our long goodbye to Mad Men), insidious (a certain horror movie franchise gets another installment), je ne sais quoi (Sonic selling us chicken wings) and feminism (the Gamergate controversy, for starters). In their press release, Merriam-Webster points out that TIME’s nod to 2014 as “the year of pop feminism” sent many people running for the dictionary.

Here are the three top definitions of culture that Merriam-Webster returns when someone looks up the word, one we clearly can’t get enough of:

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.

: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

TIME portfolio

The Most Surprising Photos of 2014

TIME's photo editors present a selection of underreported, improbable and astounding images from 2014

While the culture of social media did its best to ensure that 2014 had its fair share of entertaining, captivating and, above all, shareable photo moments, ultimately the past 12 months included as many genuinely shocking as surprising pictures. The year left us in varying states of outrage, bewilderment, bemusement and astonishment.

But there were some wonderfully unexpected and unusual images—from Darth Vader on the campaign trail in Ukraine and the Pope with a lamb around his neck, to pole dancing robots and a giant hippo in London’s Thames river—that delighted, enthralled and distracted us. Here, TIME looks back over the past 12 months and presents a selection of underreported, improbable and astounding images that caught the attention of TIME’s photo editors—and which, we trust, maintain their ability to utterly, thoroughly surprise.

Read next: TIME Picks the Top 10 Photos of 2014

TIME christmas

The Ho Ho Horror: Santacon 2014 Hits New York City

People dressed as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus celebrate in Times Square as they gather for the annual Santacon festivities on Dec. 13, 2014 in New York.
People dressed as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus celebrate in Times Square as they gather for the annual Santacon festivities on Dec. 13, 2014 in New York. Don Emmert—AFP/Getty Images

Organizers had promised to tone down the annual booze-soaked event this year

Undaunted by the popular backlash against the notoriously rowdy annual gathering, Santacon returned to the streets of New York this year, with thousands donning Santa suits on Saturday for the annual booze-and-Christmas-cheer-fueled bar crawl.

In addition to being just a massive party, Santacon raises money for charity and acts as a critique, organizers say, of the commercialization of Christmas.

The event went off this year despite backlash from some in the Big Apple who have become increasingly irritated in recent years by the drunken carousing Santacon tends to inspire, not to mention the fighting and vomiting.

Organizers reportedly worked with police this year in an effort to civilize and tone down the event, and even hired a noted civil rights lawyer to help improve relations with the city’s citizens.

After staging the core Santacon gathering in Times Square, the Santas strolled to bars in the area around midtown Manhattan, for more charity money raising and Christmas commercialization critiquing. Oh and drinking. That too.

Read more at Gothamist

TIME

See How Taylor Swift Celebrated Her Quarter Century With Famous Pals

Beyoncé, Jay Z and Justin Timberlake helped her celebrate turning 25

So this is being 25….. #WHAT #bestbirthdayEVER

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Leave it up to Taylor Swift to throw a birthday blowout to end all birthday blowouts!

After starting the celebration off while performing at the New York City Jingle Ball, the singer – who turned 25 on Saturday – kept the festivities going offstage at her apartment.

And thanks to her long list of famous friends, there wasn’t a blank space in the house.

Swift, who was already dressed for the night in the plaid two-piece outfit she wore to the annual holiday concert, was all smiles as she arrived at her Tribeca pad, where she was joined by Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith, Karlie Kloss and the girl band HAIM.

The music bigwigs reportedly noshed on pizza, according to the Daily Mail, donned party hats and – thankfully – snapped a shot of the epic get-together.

“So this is being 25 … #WHAT #bestbirthdayEVER,” she captioned a group photo of all the partygoers on Instagram.

With such a star-studded guest list – which also included Selena Gomez, Jaime King, Emma Roberts, Ansel Elgort, Kelly Osbourne, Nick Jonas and Chrissy Teigen – we can’t imagine what Swift wished for when she blew out her candles.

But, hey, it’s her party and she can … shake it if she wants to.

This article was originally published on People.

TIME Marriage

Dutchman’s Romantic Proposal Almost Destroys Nearby Building

Crane topples on to house during dramatic proposal
A crane fell on to the roof of a house in IJsselstein, Netherlands, on Dec. 13, 2014. The incident ocurred when a man tried to surprise his girlfriend by proposing from the top of the crane, which then toppled on to the house, though no injuries were reported. Michiel Van Beers—EPA

Talk about a hopeless romantic

Let this be a cautionary tale to all you lovers with Hollywood-fueled ideas about marriage proposals. A little glitz is fine but don’t go too big—or too heavy, as the case may be.

A man in the Dutch town of IJsselstein was hoping to surprise his girlfriend with an elaborate marriage proposal Saturday morning, the BBC reports, when surprise her he did—by smashing the roof of a neighbor’s house with the unanchored crane he had secured for the occasion.

The man, whose name has not been released, intended to descend in front of her bedroom window and sing her a song before proposing. Instead the crane crashed through a nearby ceiling and caused the evacuation of other nearby homes.

No one was hurt in the incident, not even the budding couple—Dutch media reports the woman said yes to the proposal, and the lovers are now vacationing in Paris.

[BBC]

TIME Math

Today is the Last Sequential Date of the Century

1897 Calendar with Parading Cats
Corbis

12/13/14. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Today, December 13, 2014, is the last day this century that the date as rendered by Americans will read in sequential order: 12/13/14.

The next time you’ll be able to write the date in the United States by simply counting up won’t come until January 2, 2103: 01/02/03. That’s 89 years from now—probably outside the lifespan of anyone reading this now but certainly a goal worth striving for. In any case, not to worry. Smithsonian has a nifty write up of upcoming dates of mathematical significance that some of us may yet live to experience.

In countries outside the U.S. where the date is rendered Day/Month/Year, this auspicious occasion passed last year on 11 December 2013: 11/12/13.

TIME south dakota

South Dakota Pulls ‘Don’t Jerk and Drive’ Ad Campaign

The double entendre was intentional but some felt it was too risqué

Young men are a notoriously hard demographic to handle for public service campaigns — but you’ve got to give officials in South Dakota credit for at least trying to reach them.

State officials announced Friday they’re pulling a public safety ad campaign entitled “Don’t Jerk and Drive,”’ designed to discourage people from jerking on the road, something young men in particular are most likely to do.

“Jerking,” of course, is the habit of overcorrecting on icy roads by jerking the steering wheel back into place and not turning into the slide. What did you think it meant?

“Overcorrecting only results in chaos,” says the British, female narrator in the the ad. “And besides — nobody likes a jerker.”

Officials told The Argus Leader that the onanistic double meaning was intentional. “The message is that we’d prefer drivers keep their cars out of the ditch and their minds out of the gutter,” said Lee Axdahl, director of the office of Highway Safety. But after grumbling from some South Dakotans, including state Rep. Mike Verchio, officials decided to scrap the campaign.

“I decided to pull the ad,” Trevor Jones, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “This is an important safety message and I don’t want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road.”

[Argus Leader]

TIME celebrity

Here Are 25 Birthday Wishes For Taylor Swift On Her 25th Birthday

Taylor Swift Lives In Shanghai
Taylor Swift performs at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on May 30, 2014 in Shanghai, China. ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images

Our well-wishes for the "Shake It Off" singer include some new crop tops and plenty of time with her besties

As you probably know from the title of her wildly successful album, 1989, Taylor Swift was born in the year 1989. More specifically, she was born on December 13, 1989, making her 25 years old. Congrats on hitting the quarter-century mark, Tay! Proud of you. You’ve accomplished more in your 25 years than the rest of us will accomplish in our whole lives.

To kick off the birthday festivities, we’ve come up with 25 well-wishes for the “Blank Space” singer. Here’s what we hope for Tay-Tay as she embarks on her 25th year:

  1. To continue shaking it off when the haters hate hate hate hate hate.
  2. A new kitten for her current cats Olivia Benson and Meredith to play with.
  3. That the media still stop accusing all her friends of dating her (this is actually her special request.)
  4. A thousand awards shows where she can dance to her heart’s content.
  5. A belly button (since she maybe/probably doesn’t have one.)
  6. A bad guy to make good for a weekend.
  7. A compass to help her get Out of the Woods.
  8. Steve Carell serenading her with his rendition of “Shake It Off.”
  9. A super fun girls’ weekend getaway in the Dominican Republic with her besties Lorde, Karlie Kloss and Sarah Hyland.
  10. A new all-purpose crop top.
  11. A new, special sleet and garbage-resistant crop top that she can wear over her winter coat in New York City.
  12. Ten new cookie recipes so she can change things up when she gives all her friends Christmas cookies this year.
  13. A day even bigger than Elaine’s Big Day.
  14. A more official, public best friendship with mutual admirer Kendrick Lamar.
  15. BFF bracelets with Kendrick Lamar to seal the deal.
  16. Also, BFF bracelets with her BFF Ed Sheeran.
  17. That whoever was mean to her from the song “Mean” has something bad happen to them. (Just kidding, Tay isn’t vindictive like that.)
  18. A brand new banjo so she can reminisce about her old country days.
  19. A brand new drum machine so she can celebrate her new pop days.
  20. That all of us will remember her standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset, babe.
  21. That she gets to be tourism ambassador of Bali so she can escape New York and go somewhere actually nice.
  22. That she never gets this, uh, adventurous with hairstyles ever again.
  23. That all her relationships will remain peaceful and free of Bad Blood.
  24. A play date with her friend Lena Dunham’s dog Lamby.
  25. To just keep dancing like she’s 22. Even though she’s 25.

Party hard this year, birthday girl. You earned it.

TIME weird

This Superfan Spent $10,000 to Cover His Back with Simpsons Tattoos

His favorite character is Homer.

Some people show their fandom by buying a box set or putting posters on their walls. For Michael Baxter, a prison officer from Australia, these empty tributes wouldn’t suffice. The 52-year-old says he has spent $10,000 and 130 hours to cover his back with 203 Simpsons characters.

According to the Daily Mail, Baxter hopes to snag the Guinness World Record for most having the most tattooed cartoon characters on his body. He’ll need to unseat Lee Weir of New Zealand, whose left arm is adorned with 41 tattoos of Homer Simpson. Baxter is grateful to his tattoo artist, Jade Baxter Smith, whose tattoo art also includes pop culture icons like Bill Murray and a Kill Bill-era Uma Thurman. “I’m happy for Jade to use me to promote her work,” he says, noting that he doesn’t mind if people photograph her masterpiece.

Baxter hopes for world record recognition on Dec. 17, which also happens to be the 25th anniversary of the premiere of The Simpsons.

More colour

A photo posted by Jade Baxter-Smith (@jade_baxtersmith_art) on

TIME Science

Watch Bill Nye Explain Evolution Using Emoji

“We emojinized it.”

Bill Nye has never been known to teach science the way you learned it in school — unless, of course, your school taught you about water displacement by spoofing Sir Mix-a-Lot. The Science Guy is still infusing fun into science, this time spreading the gospel of evolution with the help of some emoji.

In the video, produced by Mashable as part of General Electric’s “Emoji Science” promotion, the major players in evolution get emoji matches: carbon is represented by the diamond, self-replicating molecules are interconnected faces and bacteria are represented by the purple alien monster. But despite his casual demeanor in this video, Nye takes the topic rather seriously. Back in February, he debated Ken Ham, a prominent proponent of creationism, in an attempt to win over creationists with the scientific evidence supporting evolution. In November, he released a book called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, aimed at exposing young creationists to the scientific principles of evolution.

For those who don’t plan to read the book, the video offers a simplified version. “We shook it up with emoji, and then we told a story,” Nye says of the digital age approach to evolution. “The way you might do if you had too many, um, Jell-O shots.”

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