Not too long ago, you wouldn’t come across the word “unicorn” very often outside a kindergarten classroom.
But “unicorn” is just one of the numerous words that, thanks to a recent shift in meaning, gets used regularly in 2017 in headlines and on social media.
While most of these words have been around for years, it took this year for them to shoot into the mainstream and shape the way we talk about business, politics, and current events.
Here are six words that took on completely different meanings in 2017:
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Ask an elementary schooler what a unicorn is, and they’ll tell you it’s a mythical horse-like creature with a single horn growing from its forehead.
In the world of finance, unicorns are extremely rare. Of course, those unicorns are something else entirely — they’re startup companies valued at $1 billion or more.
Venture capitalist Aileen Lee coined the term in 2013, when $1 billion startups were extremely scarce. But four years later, there are more than 200 such companies, including Uber, Hulu, and Warby Parker.
“As their name indicates, unicorns were originally so rare as to be almost mythical,” hedge fund manager Jennifer Fan wrote.
“We now have a blessing of unicorns, each one of which has the potential to transform financial and cultural norms.”
2017 saw the word “snowflake” gain traction as a pejorative used by conservatives to insult liberals perceived as being overly sensitive.
The term is shorthand for “Generation Snowflake,” which in turn originated from the 1996 novel “Fight Club”:
“You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else,” a line from the book reads.
The new usage of the word became popular enough to shed the “generation” prefix, and becam especially popular among surrogates and supporters of President Donald Trump.
“It became the epithet of choice for right-wingers to fling at anyone who could be accused of being too easily offended, too in need of ‘safe spaces,’ too fragile,” journalist Jessica Goldstein wrote in a ThinkProgress article about the history of the word.
In the wake of Trump’s election a year ago, the word “normalize” underwent an abrupt change of meaning among political pundits and activists.
Originally, people used “normalize” in the sense of returning something to a normal state, like relations between two countries.
But after the election, as editors of Merriam-Webster noted, people began using the word in a subtly different way, referring to a change in society’s standards to accept ideas that were once considered outside the mainstream.
“The ‘normalization of hate,’ then, is not the removal of extreme and hateful rhetoric or views to fit the mode of modern discourse, but instead the redefinition of modern discourse to allow those extreme views to be considered normal,” Merriam-Webster explained in a blog post about the changing definition.