How concentrated solar power could fuel the future
This company uses thousands of mirrors, AI, and machine learning to unlock the power of the sun.
NARRATOR: This magnifying glass has a technical name, a sunlight refinery. To use it, find somewhere really sunny, plop down a bunch of mirrors, bounce the sunlight into a single spot and you can melt just about anything. Okay, so it is kind of death ray-ish. Why do this? Because manufacturing steel or cement requires a lot of heat and making something super hot has historically meant burning dinosaurs.
STEVE SCHELL: You look at the massive carbon footprint that is associated with these industrial applications and it can't be ignored.
NARRATOR: Twenty percent of global carbon emissions to be precise. And because this technology is so good, it might just change the entire energy industry. And prevent World War III in the process.
This is "Hard Reset," a series about rebuilding our world from scratch.
Just east of Six Flags and north of LA is a place called Lancaster, which is very flat, very hot and a perfect place to test a takeover of the world's energy supply. Yeah, that sounded more Bond villain-y than I thought it would. Anyway, these are called heliostats and the reason this solar refinery works so well is that under these mirrors and shot glasses are pretty simple motors that they can control remotely. And this allows the mirrors to change angles throughout the day, depending on where the sun is. How do they know where the sun is? Interns. No, AI, of course.
BILL GROSS: You need to take each of thousands of mirrors and point them very, very precisely, accurate to about 1/10 or 1/20 of a degree.
NARRATOR: That's Bill Gross, genius visionary and founder of over 150 companies. Also super nice guy.
GROSS: Thank you, I really appreciate it.
NARRATOR: At the top of the tower, high-resolution cameras monitor the position of the mirrors below.
SCHELL: You can actually see the two at the top are the easiest to pick out 'cause they're on booms above the receiver.
NARRATOR: So Heliogen gets all those mirrors to reflect sunlight into that big target at the top.
SCHELL: So what we've got just above us is the solar receiver. So you can see that's what we saw from ground level. That's where that concentrated sunlight is focused when the field is operating.
NARRATOR: The cameras know if the mirrors are bouncing into the sun because those cameras are assessing the quality of the sky's blue. Let's break that down with Steve, who has cool tattoos.
SCHELL: This is my robot battle armor and what I have here is a jungle on an alien planet with robots tending the garden.
NARRATOR: And is in charge of the technology stuff here.
SCHELL: What these cameras see is the reflection of the sky close to the sun. Close to the sun, the sky appears very bright from the scattered sunlight coming through it and the further away from the sun you look, the darker or less bright that patch of sky appears to be.
NARRATOR: So the cameras look at the color blue and the AI uses that information to assess the distance from the sun, deduce the orientation of the mirror and therefore, where the beam is going.
SCHELL: So every few seconds, we get a measurement of where that beam is going and we can command the heliostat to make small corrections to optimize its tracking. In this industry, that is a complete game changer 'cause now we don't rely on the hardware to be so precise, we have software to make it precise. So it really changes everything about how that plant operates and allows us to reach higher performance levels at a much lower cost.
NARRATOR: So software that controls accuracy, not hardware. And the more accurate those mirrors can be throughout the day, the fewer of them they actually need. More importantly, it allows Heliogen to do something that no other concentrated solar refinery has been able to do. Generate temperatures north of 1,000 degrees Celsius.
GROSS: People have done mirror concentration before but they've achieved 400 degrees, 500 degrees. We've achieved 1,500 degrees.
NARRATOR: That heat is important because solar energy needs to be used immediately or stored somehow. Batteries are expensive and problematic but you know what's cheap and safe? Just normal rocks.
WALTER WHITE JR: You have a rock collection?
HANK SCHRADER: It's a mineral collection.
GROSS: And we take that high temperature and we bring it down into a rock bed. We literally heat rocks to 1,000 degrees Centigrade.
SCHELL: The temperatures are so high, the metal actually can't take it. So we put the insulation on the inside to protect the steel from those high temperatures.
GROSS: If you heat rocks to 1,000 degrees Centigrade with the photons, they now stay hot even after the sun goes down. Those rocks are in an insulated tank, like a thermos. And they'll stay hot for a week.
NARRATOR: Those rocks act as batteries, storing energy that can be used to generate power 24 hours a day.
GROSS: It allows us to power things that need to run around the clock. And civilization does run around the clock.
NARRATOR: But wait a minute, haven't we heard this all before? How solar energy is gonna revolutionize the world? The difference here seems to be that everything at Heliogen is built around scale. This plant we went to is only a test facility, 400 heliostats. A proper sunlight refinery will be 40,000 heliostats.
SCHELL: So 100 times as much solar collector as what we have here.
NARRATOR: To build refineries all over the world, they're betting on small.
GROSS: Make all the mirrors small so they can be factory produced and make them easy to roll out because we don't need cranes or heavy equipment to deploy them. Our vision was to make this like farming, so we could cover lots of ground very inexpensively. Almost like a harvester or a tractor planting rows of seeds. That is critical because to power the Earth, we need to cover hundreds of square miles, which is actually not that much to power the whole planet.
GROSS: But covering hundreds of square miles needs to be done cost effectively.
SCHELL: We essentially designed this to be highly automated, robotic tractors that can carve the trenches, place the heliostat foundations, pour the concrete and then the drives and the mirrors are set on afterward in a very efficient way.
NARRATOR: So the plan is that these refineries go in places that are flat with lots of sun like desserts, [bell dinging] deserts. Deserts. Then they take that concentrated sunlight, convert it to electricity, put that electricity through an electrolyzer and split a water molecule to get hydrogen.
GROSS: Green hydrogen can be put in pipelines and moved thousands of miles or put on ships and moved across oceans. The powerful thing about that is we can then make the energy where the sun is good and move it to where the sun isn't. And that's what we need to do to power civilization. Beating the price of fossil fuels is the only thing that matters 'cause otherwise people will keep burning fossil fuels if they're cheaper. But if we can be even a fraction of a cent cheaper than fossil fuels, the world will adopt this at scale.
NARRATOR: And so what happens if this is adopted at scale? Let's picture a scenario where the world is powered by the sun, mirrors and rocks.
GROSS: My dream, by the end of this decade, would be to have 1,000 towers in the southwest United States, 1,000 towers in Australia, and 1,000 towers in the Middle East and north Africa. That way, we can make energy for almost all of the continents because we can move the energy from where the sun is good in those deserts to where the people who need it live. [pensive music]
NARRATOR: In total, it would take an area about the size of Alaska to produce enough energy to meet today's consumption rates and with that, we could change the environment, and geopolitics. How many wars have been fought, how many people have died essentially for oil? And those geopolitics are, in a way, the inspiration for this whole endeavor.
GROSS: I do have one story about how I lived through the energy crisis when I was a kid. It was 1973 during the Arab oil embargo. There was a shortage of gasoline. So there were long lines of cars waiting at the gas stations on Ventura Boulevard, just to get your $5 of gasoline. My mother would wait in that line with me in the backseat of the car and I was thinking as we waited an hour to get our gasoline, thinking about why is it that there's somewhere else in the world that could choose to shut off our supply and now people are suffering? Why don't we have another way of getting our energy that's more local? [dramatic music]
SCHELL: We have regular conversations about climate refugees and about the wars that are fought over fossil fuels. We are looking to stabilize the global politics.
GROSS: The sun is the most evenly distributed natural resource we have, except for air, so why can't we take that resource and convert it to the energy we need near where we are and not have to take it from someone else far away? So I feel like my whole life and everything I learned allows me to be in the right place at the right time to make a positive difference on this thing that the world cares about so much right now.
NARRATOR: Come back next time for another episode of "Hard Reset." Subscribe to Freethink to watch our other original series and documentaries about technology and people that are changing our world.
- What if we could not only harness the power of the sun, but actually use it to run the entire planet?
- Concentrated solar power (CSP) has the potential to do just that — using arrays of revolving mirrors called heliostats, light is reflected into a massive receiver. Thanks to recent advancements in technology, the cost to replicate these Sunlight Refineries™ is dropping. Soon solar energy will be cleaner and cheaper than using fossil fuels, which could mean adoption on a global scale.
- Heliogen, a company founded by Bill Gross and backed by Bill Gates, wants to eliminate all uses of fossil fuels. Using cameras, AI, and machine learning, they are working to make these CSP systems smarter and much more efficient.
This episode is from Hard Reset, a Freethink original series about rebuilding the world from scratch and reimagining everything from first principles.
Catch more Hard Reset episodes on their channel: https://www.freethink.com/shows/hard-reset
- Heliogen: concentrated solar power plant produces temperatures of ... ›
- Scientists develop liquid solar fuel, a clean energy breakthrough ... ›
- A Nevada solar energy plant could end the fossil fuels era - Big Think ›
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People tend to reflexively assume that fun events – like vacations – will go by really quickly.
For many people, summer vacation can't come soon enough – especially for the half of Americans who canceled their summer plans last year due to the pandemic.
But when a vacation approaches, do you ever get the feeling that it's almost over before it starts?
If so, you're not alone.
In some recent studies Gabriela Tonietto, Sam Maglio, Eric VanEpps and I conducted, we found that about half of the people we surveyed indicated that their upcoming weekend trip felt like it would end as soon as it started.
This feeling can have a ripple effect. It can change the way trips are planned – you might, for example, be less likely to schedule extra activities. At the same time, you might be more likely to splurge on an expensive dinner because you want to make the best of the little time you think you have.
Where does this tendency come from? And can it be avoided?
Not all events are created equal
When people look forward to something, they usually want it to happen as soon as possible and last as long as possible.
We first explored the effect of this attitude in the context of Thanksgiving.
We chose Thanksgiving because almost everyone in the U.S. celebrates it, but not everyone looks forward to it. Some people love the annual family get-together. Others – whether it's the stress of cooking, the tedium of cleaning or the anxiety of dealing with family drama – dread it.
So on the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2019, we surveyed 510 people online and asked them to tell us whether they were looking forward to the holiday. Then we asked them how far away it seemed, and how long they felt it would last. We had them move a 100-point slider – 0 meaning very short and 100 meaning very long – to a location that reflected their feelings.
As we suspected, the more participants looked forward to their Thanksgiving festivities, the farther away it seemed and shorter it felt. Ironically, longing for something seems to shrink its duration in the mind's eye.
Winding the mind's clock
Most people believe the idiom “time flies when you're having fun," and research has, indeed, shown that when time seems to pass by quickly, people assume the task must have been engaging and enjoyable.
We reasoned that people might be over-applying their assumption about the relationship between time and fun when judging the duration of events yet to happen.
As a result, people tend to reflexively assume that fun events – like vacations – will go by really quickly. Meanwhile, pining for something can make the time leading up to the event seem to drag. The combination of its beginning pushed farther away in their minds – with its end pulled closer – resulted in our participants' anticipating that something they looked forward would feel as if it had almost no duration at all.
In another study, we asked participants to imagine going on a weekend trip that they either expected to be fun or terrible. We then asked them how far away the start and end of this trip felt like using a similar 0 to 100 scale. 46% of participants evaluated the positive weekend as feeling like it had no duration at all: They marked the beginning and the end of the vacation virtually at the same location when using the slider scale.
Thinking in hours and days
Our goal was to show how these two judgments of an event – the fact that it simultaneously seems farther away and is assumed to last for less time – can nearly eliminate the event's duration in the mind's eye.
We reasoned that if we didn't explicitly highlight these two separate pieces – and instead directly asked them about the duration of the event – a smaller portion of people would indicate virtually no duration for something they looked forward to.
We tested this theory in another study, in which we told participants that they would watch two five-minute-long videos back-to-back. We described the second video as either humorous or boring, and then asked them how long they thought each video would feel like it lasted.
We found that the participants predicted that the funny video would still feel shorter and was farther away than the boring one. But we also found that participants believed it would last a bit longer than the responses we received in the earlier studies.
This finding gives us a way to overcome this biased perception: focus on the actual duration. Because in this study, participants directly reported how long the funny video would last – and not the perceived distance of its beginning and its end – they were far less likely to assume it would be over just as it started.
While it sounds trivial and obvious, we often rely on our subjective feelings – not objective measures of time – when deciding how long a period of time will feel and how to best use it.
So when looking forward to much-anticipated events like vacations, it's important to remind yourself just how many days it will last.
You'll get more out of the experience – and, hopefully, put yourself in a better position to take advantage of the time you do have.
A global survey shows the majority of countries favor Android over iPhone.
- When Android was launched soon after Apple's own iPhone, Steve Jobs threatened to "destroy" it.
- Ever since, and across the world, the rivalry between both systems has animated users.
- Now the results are in: worldwide, consumers clearly prefer one side — and it's not Steve Jobs'.
A woman on her phone in Havana, Cuba. Mobile phones have become ubiquitous the world over — and so has the divide between Android and iPhone users.Credit: Yamil Lage / AFP via Getty Images.
Us versus them: it's the archetypal binary. It makes the world understandable by dividing it into two competing halves: labor against capital, West against East, men against women.
These maps are the first to show the dividing lines between one of the world's more recent binaries: Android vs. Apple. Published by Electronics Hub, they are based on a qualitative analysis of almost 350,000 tweets worldwide that presented positive, neutral, and negative attitudes toward Android and/or Apple.
Steve Jobs wanted to go "thermonuclear"
Feelings between Android and Apple were pretty tribal from the get-go. It was Steve Jobs himself who said, when Google rolled out Android a mere ten months after Apple launched the iPhone, "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."
Buying a phone is like picking a side in the eternal feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Each choice for automatically comes with an in-built arsenal of arguments against.
If you are an iPhone person, you appreciate the sleekness and simplicity of its design, and you are horrified by the confusing mess that is the Android operating system. If you are an Android aficionado, you pity the iPhone user, a captive of an overly expensive closed ecosystem, designed to extract money from its users.
Even without resorting to those extremes, many of us will recognize which side of the dividing line that we are on. Like the American Civil War, that line runs through families and groups of friends, but that would be a bit confusing to chart geographically. To un-muddle the information, these maps zoom out to state and country level.
If the contest is based on the number of countries, Android wins. In all, 74 of the 142 countries surveyed prefer Android (in green on the map). Only 65 favor Apple (colored grey). That's a 52/48 split, which may not sound like a decisive vote, but it was good enough for Boris Johnson to get Brexit done (after he got breakfast done, of course).
And yes, math-heads: 74 plus 65 is three short of 142. Belarus, Fiji, and Peru (in yellow on the map) could not decide which side to support in the Global Phone War.
What about the United States, home of both the Android and the iPhone? Another victory for the former, albeit a slightly narrower one: 30.16 percent of the tweets about Android were positive versus just 29.03 percent of the ones about Apple.
United States: Texas surrounded!
Credit: Electronics Hub
There can be only one winner per state, though, and that leads to this preponderance of Android logos. Frankly, it's a relief to see a map showing a visceral divide within the United States that is not the coasts versus the heartland.
- Apple dominates in 19 states: a solid Midwestern bloc, another of states surrounding Texas, the Dakotas and California, plus North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
- And that's it. The other 32 are the United States of Android. You can drive from Seattle to Miami without straying into iPhone territory. But no stopovers in Dallas or Houston – both are behind enemy lines!
North America: strongly leaning toward Android
Credit: Electronics Hub
Only eight of North America's 21 countries surveyed fall into the Apple category.
- The U.S. and Canada lean Android, while Mexico goes for the iPhone.
- Central America is divided, but here too Android wins hands down, 5-2.
Europe: Big Five divided
Credit: Electronics Hub
In Europe, Apple wins, with 20 countries preferring the iPhone, 17 going for Android, and Belarus sitting on the fence.
- Of Western Europe's Big Five markets, three (UK, Germany, Spain) are pro-Android, and two (France, Italy) are pro-Apple.
- Czechia and Slovakia are an Apple island in the Android sea that is Central Europe. Glad to see there is still something the divorcees can agree on.
South America: almost even
Credit: Electronics Hub
In South America, the divide is almost even.
- Five countries prefer Android, four Apple, and one is undecided.
- In Peru, both Android- and Apple-related tweets were 25 percent positive.
Africa: watch out for Huawei
Credit: Electronics Hub
In Africa, Android wins by 17 countries versus Apple's 15.
- There's a solid Android bloc running from South Africa via DR Congo all the way to Ethiopia.
- iPhone countries are scattered throughout the north (Algeria), west (Guinea), east (Somalia), and south (Namibia).
Huawei — increasingly popular across the continent — could soon dramatically change the picture in Africa. Currently still running on Android, the Chinese phone manufacturer has just launched its own operating system, called Harmony.
Middle East: Iran vs. Saudi Arabia (again)
Credit: Electronics Hub
In the Middle East and Central Asia, Android wins 8 countries to Apple's 6.
- But it's complicated. One Turkish tweeter wondered how it is that iPhones seem more popular in the Asian half of Istanbul, while Android phones prevailed in the European part of the city.
- The phone divide matches up with the region's main geopolitical one: Iran prefers Android, Saudi Arabia the iPhone.
Asia-Pacific: Apple on the periphery
Credit: Electronics Hub
Another wafer-thin majority for Android in the Asia-Pacific region: 13 countries versus 12 for Apple — and one abstention (Fiji).
- The two giants of the Asian mainland, India and China, are both Android countries. Apple countries are on the periphery.
- And if India is Android, its rival Pakistan must be Apple. Same with North and South Korea.
Experts point to the fact that both operating systems are becoming more alike with every new generation as a potential resolution to the conflict. But as any student of human behavior will confirm: smaller differences will only exacerbate the rivalry between both camps.
Maps taken from Electronics Hub, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps #1096
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reality is far stranger than fiction.
- Black holes are stranger than fiction, especially when we explore the weird effects of watching someone or something fall into one.
- Rotating black holes may be traversable if the physics as we understand it holds.
- To discuss the physics, we explore a fictional tale with a grand ending.
What happens when someone falls into a black hole? If you are the unfortunate soul being gobbled up, things don't look too bad until they turn really bad. Unless, there is an outlet through a wormhole. And you are really lucky.
The fictional story below — an abridged version of one published in my 2002 book The Prophet and the Astronomer explains why. Since we now know that black holes exist and that even Jeff Bezos can fly into outer space, it is only a matter of time before humans fly into black holes — albeit a very, very long time from now: the nearest black hole to Earth (as of now) lies a "mere" 1,500 light-years away.
But first, a refresher. In his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein equated gravity with the curvature of space around a massive body. The effect is quite negligible for light masses but becomes important for massive stars and even more so for very compact massive objects such as neutron stars, whose gravity is 100,000 times stronger than at the sun's surface. Distortions of space caused by a larger mass (stars) will cause small moving masses (planets) to deviate from what Newtonian gravity predicts. Another remarkable consequence of Einstein's theory of gravity is the slowing down of clocks in strong gravitational fields: strong gravity bends space and slows down time.
Now, on with the story.
In my young days, I traveled from planet to planet looking for old spaceship parts. It was in one of my travels in search of a rare gyroscope for a 2180 Mars Lander that I found "Mr. Ström's Rocket Parts," an enormous hanger littered with mountains of space garbage. While I was consulting the store's virtual stock-scanning device to search for the gyroscope, Mr. Ström himself came to greet me. He was famous throughout the galaxy for claiming to have come closer than anyone to a black hole, a story that, to most, was just that — a story.
Like many before me, I asked Mr. Ström to tell me his story. After hesitating a while, he gave in.
"I was commander of a fleet built to explore the complex astrophysical X-ray source known as Cygnus X-1," he started. "Since the 1970s, over three millennia ago, this was suspected to be a binary star system 6,000 light-years from Earth. The two members of the binary system, thought to be a blue giant star about 20-30 solar masses and a black hole about 7-15 solar masses, orbited so close together that the black hole frantically sucked matter from his huge companion into a spiraling oblivion. This mad swirling heated the in-falling stellar matter to enormous temperatures, producing the X-rays astronomers on Earth observed. Even though the data indicated that the smaller object of the pair had a mass much larger than the maximum mass for neutron stars, it was still not clear if it was a black hole. Since other attempts to identify it had failed, the League of Planets decided that the only way to know for sure was to go there.
"The fleet consisted of three vessels, each under the command of a Ström, a great honor to my family. I led the vessel named CX1, my middle brother led CX2, and the youngest led CX3. I will spare you the details of how the mission was prepared, and how, after many problems with our hyper-relativistic plasma drive, we finally arrived to within one light-month of our destination. Through our telescopes we could see an enormous hot blue star being drained by an invisible hole in space.
"We were instructed to fly single file toward the black hole, keeping a very large distance from each other; my younger brother first, my mid-brother second, and me last. We knew that, from a large distance, a black hole behaves like any other massive object, as the differences general relativity predicted happen only fairly close to it. We also knew that every black hole has an imaginary limiting sphere around it known as the 'event horizon,' which marks the distance from which not even light could escape.
"My young brother's ship, the CX3, was to approach the hole, sending us periodic light flashes with a given frequency; we were to follow at a distance, measuring the frequency of the radiation emitted by my brother's ship as well as the time interval between the pulses, and then compare them with the theoretical predictions for gravitational redshift and time delay. The three vessels plunged to a distance of 10,000 kilometers from the hole; while CX1 and CX2 hovered at that distance, my brother closed in to 100 kilometers from the hole. He was instructed to send us infrared radiation, but we detected only radio waves. The gravitational redshift formula was indeed correct. Furthermore, the intervals between two pulses increased quite perceptibly; time was flowing slower for my brother, as viewed from our distant ships. He plunged to the dangerously close distance of ten kilometers from the hole, only seven from the event horizon; this was the closest distance the ship could stand, due to the enormous tidal forces around the hole, which stretch everything into spaghetti. (Numbers assume a one-solar-mass black hole.)
"From that close orbit, my brother was to send pulses of visible light, but all we detected were (invisible) radio waves; we could not see my brother's ship any longer, and I started to feel very uneasy. The theory was correct: a ship falling into a black hole will become invisible to a more distant ship (us) due to the red shifting of light. That also meant that we would never be able to see a star collapsing into a black hole, as it will become invisible before it meets its end. A related effect was the slowing of time. As my younger brother approached the black hole, the radiation pulses were arriving at increasingly long intervals. Thus, not only could we not see him, but we would also have to wait an enormous amount of time to receive any message from him. This confirmed the prediction that for a distant observer, the collapse of a star would take forever. Of course, for the unlucky traveler that freefalls into the black hole, nothing unusual with the passage of time would happen, as explained by the equivalence principle: gravity is neutralized in free fall. Unfortunately, his body would be horribly stretched.
"The turbulence and steady bombardment of matter swirling around the black hole caused my brother's spaceship to drift uncontrollably into the maelstrom. I had to try to rescue him. After all, this was a rotating black hole, and the theory predicted that instead of a crushing singularity at its center, there should be a wormhole connected to another point in the universe. A desperate maneuver to be sure.
"My mid-brother waited in a safe distant orbit around the black hole. As I plunged in, the whirling of space dragged me in as water into a drain. The combination of enormous gravitational pull and furious bombardment of radiation and particles took a toll on my ship; but its fuselage miraculously — what else could it be but a miracle? — survived, as I did, thanks to the once controversial anti-crunch shield. Outside, space seemed to convulse into infinitely many coexisting shapes. Inside a black hole, I realized, reality had no boundaries.
"I felt an enormous push, as if the spaceship was being coughed up by a giant. I must have remained unconscious for quite a while. When I looked into a mirror, I could hardly believe what I saw; my hair had turned completely white, and my face was covered with wrinkles I didn't have moments (moments?) ago. I checked my location in the computer and realized that, somehow, I re-emerged 2,000 light-years away from Cygnus X-1. The only possible explanation was that I traveled through a wormhole, which somehow was kept open inside the black hole and was tossed out by a white hole at a faraway point in space."
Apart from the sequence of facts inside the black hole — where we know very little — the rest is what we should expect from watching someone fall into a black hole. Reality, for these cosmic maelstroms, is definitely stranger than fiction.
English is a dynamic language, and this summer's new additions to dictionary.com tell us a lot about how we're living.
- The summer update to Dictionary.com added hundreds of new words and definitions.
- Many of them are in areas related to justice, technology, and COVID-19.
- The new slang terms will leave more than a few people confused.
In any given year, new words are added to the dictionary to reflect how society's use of them has changed, often in response to ongoing events. For Summer 2021, more than 1200 new, improved, and revised definitions were introduced to Dictionary.com, including 231 entirely new words. A review of those words, the subjects they cover, and the stories behind their creation tells a rich story about the times we live in.
A word by any other definition?
You might wonder why we need to carry out such extensive addition and redefining campaigns. John Kelly, the Managing Editor of Dictionary.com, explained in a statement why these changes were made and their importance:
"The latest update to our dictionary continues to mirror the world around us. Long COVID, minoritize, 5G, content warning, domestic terrorism — it's a complicated and challenging society we live in, and language changes to help us grapple with it. But sometimes language changes just for fun. Yes, yeet is now in the dictionary, which may prompt some of us to use one other of our new entries: oof! Perhaps these lighter slang and pop culture newcomers to our dictionary reflect another important aspect of our time — a cautious optimism and a brighter mood about the future ahead after a trying 2020."
The English language isn't static, so it is up to lexicographers to get the dictionaries up to speed. Let's face it, we might need more than a few new words to talk about last year.
The times they are a-changin'
Good Communication 101: Mirroring, Jargon, Hifalutin Words | Alan Alda | Big Think www.youtube.com
Words that describe the continuing COVID-19 pandemic are still being added. The recent additions, which include long haul and long hauler may speak to the shift in how we interact with the pandemic — it is now a long-term rather than an acute concern for many people. Changes to our lives as a result of the pandemic and new ways to cater to those challenges, like ghost kitchen and side hustle, also made their way in.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed, Americans searched for terms related to racial issues at significantly higher levels than before. This not only called for updates and additions to words in this area last year but a continuing review, which has added new terms like the acronyms JEDI and DEI and the new word one-drop rule. Other terms long included, like Jim Crow and Black Codes, saw updates this summer.
Technology continued to advance through thick and thin as well. Terms like 5G, asynchronous, and abandonware made it into the recent update. Given how much time we all spent using tech in the last year and a half, it is only fitting that we would need these terms. 5G also has the unfortunate distinction of being both a telecommunications technology and a target for conspiracy theorists, perhaps making a dictionary entry for it all the more important.
Other words previously defined as regional or cultural in nature have been redefined in the light of their evolving use. Y'all is now listed as its own term and deemed an "informal" pronoun rather than a mere variant of "you-all." The post explaining the update noted that the term is now more known for informality than regionalism and has enjoyed a surge in use as a gender neutral pronoun.
Mind hack: 7 secrets to learn any new language | Steve Kaufmann | Big Think www.youtube.com
Perhaps it is necessary that after a year that required so many of the above words to be added or clarified, there are new slang terms that will seem like absolute gibberish to somebody disconnected from popular culture. New words like yeet, zaddy, and oof were added this year, showing that even in difficult times, fun new ways to use language are cropping up all the time.
The website's lexicographers also saw fit to officially add one of the honorable mentions for 2020's word of the year to the list of vulgar slang terms. Regrettably, it is unfit for publication, but it rhymes with spit-snow.
So, now that y'all know about these updates, perhaps we can all order from the new ghost kitchen from apps on our 5G smartphones before getting back to our side hustles. Yeet!