2014 Word of the Year: Adulting

It’s been a long time since I picked a word of the year, but in 2014, one new word jumped out at me: adulting. I think it could go mainstream.

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read


Words of the year come in different flavors. They can be words that seemed especially important, such as Merriam-Webster’s choice: culture. Or they can be new words such as the Oxford Dictionary’s choice: vape

It’s been a long time since I picked a word of the year, but in 2014, one in particular jumped out at me. It’s a new word that I think will catch on: adulting.

Adulting describes acting like an adult or engaging in activities usually associated with adulthood—often responsible or boring tasks. On Twitter, adulting often follows a sentence as a hashtag (#adulting) and can be used seriously or ironically.

I first saw adulting when my family friend Lindsey Moreno tweeted it right before school started. She was starting college as a new freshman and had had a rough day, and when I saw her write “I'm so bad at adulting,” I knew just what she meant. When she explained that she’d spent the whole day sorting out problems at the DMV and the bank, I felt her pain. Adulting is hard.

The word stuck in my mind because it seemed so useful, and as word-of-the-year season came upon us, I started researching the origin of adulting

Lindsey thought she hadn’t heard it before and that maybe she made it up, but the oldest reference I can find for it is from a tweet on May 22, 2010 from Daniel Kroft. Using a handy new “Who Tweeted it First” tool, I found that in 2010, Daniel had written 

Adulting isn’t in any mainstream dictionary that I checked, and it wasn’t even added to the Urban Dictionary until June of 2014. Yet today, it shows up about 100 times a day on Twitter and there are many websites and Tumblrs with adulting in their name. It’s clearly in wide use on social media, yet it also hasn’t quite gone mainstream. When I mentioned it to my graduate students at UNR, none of them had heard it—but they all seemed to like it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that there’s a popular blog called AdultingBlog.com run by Kelly Williams Brown. She launched that blog in July of 2011 and subsequently published a New York Times bestselling book called Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps that came out in May of 2013. 

I asked Kelly how she came up with the idea for the blog, and she wrote, “Like many people, I've found the process of keeping my life in order daunting. Things like how bleach worked, or how to stop celery from turning into that foul vegetal death slurry were big challenges. My thought was that if I slowly, step-by-step, made the responsible, adult choices on an hourly basis, my life would be much more orderly and I would be happier.”

Verbing Nouns

Kelly doesn’t think she heard the word before she launched her blog, but readily acknowledges that it’s possible it was in use before then. She wrote, “I'm sure as a grammarian this will make you crazy, but I've enjoyed making nouns into verbs for a long time (bridesmaiding, sandwiching, Texasing, etc.) and I felt that [adulting] could be not only a useful word, but a great way to move through the world.”

Lindsey also said she and her friends like making nouns into verbs. “Everyone adds -ing to words,” she says. They talk about internetting, Facebooking, and when they’re watching the TV show Supernatural, they’re Supernaturaling.

Lest you think all this verbing of nouns is a new thing, I have an old example too. An emeritus professor named Jake Highton gave me a copy of a journalism handbook he wrote back in 1978. He wanted me to see the grammar section, but one thing I immediately noticed was the chapter titles. Chapter 1 was “Reflections on Newspapering” and the final chapter was “Newspapering’s Highest Law.” (In case you’re curious, “telling the truth” is that law.)

The other thing I’ve found about adulting is that when people hear it, they immediately understand what it means and seem to think it fills a void, and Kelly said she’s had the same experience. She says, “I think the reason it resonates is that we don't really have a specific word for that process, and it's an important one. It feels good when you're adulting.” That positive reaction, combined with adulting's popularity on social media, is why I think the word has a good chance of catching on.

Finally, Annie, one of my graduate students, wants to know what the opposite of adulting would be, so if you have any ideas, please leave a comment.

And there you have it, the Grammar Girl 2014 up-and-coming word of the year: adulting. #woty2014

Here are some more examples of recent tweets:



More 2014 Word of the Year Lists

American Heritage
Collins Dictionary
Oxford Dictionaries
Oxford Australia
American Dialect Society
Grant Barrett

Feel free to use or share the word-of-the-year image.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.