Radnorite’s Word of the Year 2019: ‘Vibe’


Nick Speranza, Arts Section Editor

2019 saw a curious resurgence in use of the word “vibe” in casual conversation. Unbeknownst to us, everyone in both the real world and the world of social media is apparently emitting vibes of some kind — which travel on a frequency most perceptible to today’s teens. Any walk through the hallways of Radnor High will prove this to be true: even if you don’t hear any mention of “vibes” yourself, most students could explain them to you if asked, though the abstract and context-sensitive nature of the expression may give them some trouble. Considering the constant mention of this word in our casual language this past year, and considering what this omnipresence says about the youth of today, “vibe” is Radnorite’s Word of the Year for 2019.

The absolute earliest uses of “vibrations” metaphysically–to describe feelings emitted by others–occurred at the turn of the twentieth century, but these were isolated instances buried deep in the pages of random books, failing to gain traction. As many would guess, this new definition was not popularized until the 1960s, when the Beach Boys released their hit song “Good Vibrations.” Suffice it to say that “good vibrations” was abbreviated to “good vibes” soon afterward, and the phrase became emblematic of the sixties and its hippie movement. That being said, the interesting thing about “vibes” is that the phrase saw a full-on renaissance in popularity in 2019.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when and how “vibes” returned to the zeitgeist. One likely possibility is that it is related to the popularity of astrology among the teens and young adults of today — or, at the very least, their belief that people give off good and bad “energy.” This vocabulary also made it into the mainstream last year through the semi-popular phrase “keep that same energy,” so it’s reasonable to suspect that “vibes” share this connection.

On top of restoring its bygone popularity, the return of “vibes” has also given the word new definitions as it has migrated into different contexts and parts of speech. One notable example is its newfound use as a verb, to “vibe,” which is almost completely unrelated with the verb “to vibrate.” If someone is vibing, they are relaxing or chilling out, as Urbandictionary can verify. The phrase “just vibing” became an extremely popular meme in the latter half of 2019, gaining comedic value by describing animals doing humanlike activities. This meme quickly introduced “just vibing” into casual conversation, where it continues to be a quick punchline and useful description. Two people can also be described as “vibing” when they are hitting it off and possibly forming a romantic relationship. Though this definition is less popular, it is also ranked highly on Urbandictionary and makes sense in the context of the word’s other definitions — two people whose vibes resonate on the same wavelength would likely be romantically interested in each other.

Pictured: One of the most successful memes using the phrase “just vibin’.”

Another popular product of the return of vibes is the concept of a “vibe check.” As this article chronicling the history of the vibe check explains, vibe checks were a self-explanatory process: popular Twitter users would post the phrase as a way to ask all of their followers how they were doing. Others would respond with images and/or words describing their current mood, and they could consider their vibes checked. Somewhere along the way, however, the idea of punishing someone for a failed vibe check by hurting them became a popular joke; at this point, the second definition of the phrase “vibe check” is simply the act of sneaking up on someone and hitting them with a blunt object. 

Considering its many definitions, “vibe” is such an a special word because it captures so many aspects of the modern teenager’s life all at once. Vibes are a concept that put the abstract, inarticulate feelings of human interactions into words, but at the same time, people who are “vibing” are hanging out, relaxing, or bonding with each other. A vibe check is a genuine expression of empathy, a joking threat that encourages your friends to be happy, and a bizarre internet joke all at once. The high-schooler of 2019 was a neurotic, awkward young person, just trying to have a good time and gain some clout on social media; no word encapsulated that experience like “vibe” did.