See the rest of TIME’s Top 10 of Everything 2013 lists here
In a rare alignment of Gregorian and Hebrew calendars, Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah both fell on Nov. 28 in 2013. One physicist calculated that such a power holiday wouldn’t occur again for another 79,000 years. So Americans embraced the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, giving the day a portmanteau name, buying menurkeys (menorahs shaped like turkeys) and planning menus with dishes like sweet potato noodle kugel.
In 2013, simple emoticons fashioned out of equals signs and parentheses were displaced by more sophisticated—and equally silly—icons. Texters decorated countless messages and posts with letter-sized aliens, clinking drinks and kisses. And the niche buzzword used to describe the little digital images was welcomed into Oxford’s online dictionary. Emoji, a term dating back to the 1990s, comes from the Japanese words for picture (e) and character (moji).
This digital currency made headlines all year—especially after the government shut down an online marketplace known as Silk Road in October; the “Amazon for drugs” famously used the hard-to-trace money. Washington lawmakers held hearings about regulating the e-currency, and pundits argued about its volatility, as bitcoin brokers and marketplaces popped up on the Web.
Edward Snowden started big debates about privacy, homeland security and the nature of government when he leaked documents from the National Security Agency. Pundits and politicians also argued about which word best described the defense contractor—whether telling the public about top-secret surveillance programs made him a criminal “traitor,” as the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney asserted, or a heroic “whistleblower.” In a Quinnipiac poll, 55% of the American public opted for the latter.
The names of popular tech companies have a history of morphing into verbs. We google things. People skype each other. And in 2013, millions of smartphone owners started snapchatting photos and texts. The founders of Snapchat designed their app to send messages and then make them disappear, challenging the conventional wisdom that things people share digitally will never die. After explosive growth, they also spurned a $3-billion cash acquisition offer from Facebook in November.
In January, a fishy story about the imaginary romance of rising football star Manti Te’o pushed one word to the fore: catfishing. The verb, popularized by a 2010 documentary, describes a situation in which someone is hoodwinked by a person using a false identity in an online relationship. Te’o was “catfished” when he fell for a girl that he had never met and was devastated by her death, only to find out that she was the creation of a male hoaxster. TIME reporter Jack Dickey, who was part of the Deadspin team that broke the Manti Te’o scandal, looks back at the year’s most perplexing sports story.
The term twerk, describing a provocative, hip-thrusting dance, has been around for decades. But after singer Miley Cyrus twerked at the MTV Video Music Awards this August—in a bizarre, controversial performance—the dance became an explosive meme and the word became a pop-culture darling. Cyrus’ squatting move stirred debates about the example stars are setting for young women and divided people into two groups: those who knew what twerking was and those who had to awkwardly ask someone to explain it.
Every day more tools are coming online that encourage people to focus on themselves—to share their thoughts, their whereabouts, their playlists, their preferences and their kissy-face pictures. The selfie, a self-portrait typically snapped using a smartphone and shared on a social networking site, inspired museum exhibits and countless celebrity news stories in 2013, while becoming a staple in our modern, narcissistic lives.
A buzzword like twerk might stick out more than a centuries-old term like shutdown, but the height of 2013’s twerking frenzy was a cultural blip compared to the global obsession with the closure of America’s government. That single word meant danger to financial markets, chaos for national parks and lost paychecks for thousands of furloughed workers. The shutdown, coming on the heels of the sequester, lasted 16 days. But those eight letters—and the height of political dysfunction they symbolize—will haunt Congress and Obama for years to come.
One of humanity’s favorite pastimes hit a milestone in 2013. Digital streaming service Netflix released entire seasons of new shows all at once, embracing viewers’ desire binge-watch—meaning they marathon episode after episode rather than wait the traditional week for a next installment. After Kevin Spacey drama House of Cards came out in February, industry analysts suggested that hundreds of thousands of Netflix subscribers downed 13 episodes in the span of two days. Binge-watching has been around as long as DVD box sets, but the verb went mainstream this year. It’s a term that hints at broader changes in our culture too, like people’s expectation of immediacy, hyper-consumption of media and preference for digital things that bypass old staples like TV sets.