“Binge-watch”: How Netflix changed the way we speak
James R | On 20, Aug 2014
Language is a fascinating thing, not just used to communicate but to define the world around us. New words are created in response to new ideas or technologies – which means that the impact of video on-demand upon our lifestyles can be directly seen in the widespread adoption of terms used to describe it.
The best barometer? The Oxford English Dictionary, which regularly adds new entries to the online publication as they become widely used enough to be deemed significant. Top of the latest update last week? “Binge-watch”.
The OED notes that the use of the word has shown a steady increase over the past two years, as video on-demand becomes an increasingly common way to watch shows. Indeed, 10 years ago, the infrastructure to give us the accessibility to large quantites of online video while also making it affordable simply wasn’t fully developed.
It’s telling that binge-watch joins a wave of other new technological entries in the OED, specifically those related to the consumption of media. Listicle and hyperconnected were added, but so were hate-watch and cord-cutting, both words related to watching videos online. Live-tweet, too, has now been included in the OED, indicating just how attached we are not just to one screen in our living room but multiple screens, with a phone or tablet often on the go at the same time. “Smartwatch” was also added, a sign of how quickly mobile devices are being developed and – more importantly – adopted by consumers.
Oxford Dictionaries editor Katherine Connor Martin comments: “One of the advantages of our unique language monitoring programme is that it enables us to explore how English language evolves differently across the world. Naturally, many words are used in similar frequencies in the UK and US, for instance the informal additions amazeballs and neckbeard.”
Indeed, earlier this year, New Republic observed the rise of a word in American usage that was previously confined to Britain: queue.
While Brits are stereotypically associated with queuing, it is true that it is a word more readily associated with the physical act of waiting in line. So why the increase? Simple: in Google searches originating in America since 2004, the word most commonly associated with “queue” is “Netflix”.
“Back in Netflix’s early years, users baffled by the word “queue” used to call customer service to ask, “What’s my kway-way?”” Netflix communications director Joris Evers tells the website.
(Interestingly, he notes that the term was first used in its current sense by Neil Hunt, the company’s chief product officer – who came from England.)
Another word that has undergone a similar transformation in use is “stream”. Traditionally referring to liquid (be it a river or snot), it was first used in a tech context all the way back in 1981. Since then, though, streaming media from the web has become a commonplace activity, prompting the new definition to be added to the OED last year. It is only months later that binge-watch has followed suit.
The cause? You guessed it: Netflix.
Research by Oxford, the use of the term is directly related to the Internet TV giant, with occurences increasing by four times from the average level in February 2014, when House of Cards Season 2 was released worldwide. It tripled once again in June 2014, when Orange Is the New Black Season 2 premiered.
Stats are released every week that show the rise of on-demand viewing in the UK or other countries. The OED’s update, though, proves just how ingrained VOD has become in our culture.
Who knows what words we’ll be using in 10 years’ time?