The sea of detritus that is the internet got a little bit messier on Monday when Merriam-Webster announced that it was adding the phrase “dumpster fire” to the dictionary. And no, the noun is not generally employed to describe a literal fire in a literal dumpster.
The lexical authority decided to include “dumpster fire” in its list of official words because its widespread use in print and on the internet in recent years warrants it a dictionary definition.
“If a word is frequently used enough by some people, it has to be placed into a reference for all people,” Merriam-Webster editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski told NPR.
Prior to Merriam-Webster’s announcement, dumpster fire was the kind of well-defined, but free-floating phrase that is pervasive in internet speak and hews closely to a modern cultural phenomena. As in, “Wow, that season finale of The Bachelor was a real dumpster fire,” or, “That teenager attempting to vape a tide pod is quite the dumpster fire.”
Unfortunately, the proper definition of dumpster fire is codified in the kind of stale language that really doesn’t communicate the true ethos of a dumpster fire.
US, informal: an utterly calamitous or mismanaged situation or occurence : disaster
Still, dumpster fire fans will appreciate this milestone. And, to be honest, the ubiquitous use of dumpster fire over the past couple years has already somewhat rendered the phrase inert. In early 2017, The American Dialect Society named “dumpster fire” 2016’s word of the year. Last December, The Boston Globe dubbed 2017, “Year of the Dumpster Fire,” as did Buzzfeed.
Dumpster fire is just one of 850 new words and phrases to be added to the online dictionary. Other new inclusions that capture the cultural zeitgeist of 2018 include: embiggen, a word popularized by The Simpsons; glamping, a thoroughly modern combination of glamour and camping; and Antifa, the moniker of anti-Fascist activists who have been working overtime since the 2016 presidential election.