What do Indira Gandhi and a vape have in common? The word cloud knows all…

Attention fellow word nerds – the word of the year (WOTY) has been chosen, and it’s vape: to smoke an electronic cigarette (ex. Was he vaping or playing a tiny soundless oboe?), or the actual electronic cigarette (ex. When I use my vape, I hear the ‘Legend of Zelda’ ocarina in my head.)

When vape was announced last month, I immediately began doing a little social listening around the Oxford Dictionary’s WOTY, which is chosen by how often a word appears in “mainstream sources,” and whether editors feel the word will continue to be commonly used enough to make it to the big dance – the Oxford English Dictionary.

According to an article in the BBC, usage of vape increased sixfold in 2013 and doubled in 2014 to beat contenders like bae, normcore and slactivism (that last courtesy the Ice Bucket challenge – and that would have been my vote, but I’m biased) to claim the annual honor. I was wondering if fans of the runners up would ratchet up their usage in protest, but something stranger happened. Behold the word cloud:


Indira Gandhi edged her way into the conversation the day after vape was announced – along with the arguably more disturbing “international children.”  After a few clicks around on our social listening tool, I found the source of how the beloved late prime minister of India got mixed up with the WOTY.

All of the mentions of the two together spread like wildfire on the Facebook pages of India-based “GK” sites – GK for “general knowledge.” I found this headline – “ISRO chosen for Indira Gandhi prize for peace, disarmament” and this one – “Oxford Dictionary names ‘vape’ as 2014 word of year” – on the Daily GK Update in news-bite format, and the exact same stories turned into a quiz for Study Circle:

Both posts ping-ponged across India’s GK social strata, each repost treated to fresh audience to begin the content cycle anew. This continual sharing and engagement bumped Gandhi into vape’s word cloud, and reminds me of the unpredictable journeys content takes on social – not to mention how fun it is to watch unlikely associations form in real time. I’ll never forget who won the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development, and forever associate it with vape. Which means that every time I pass a vape shop, which I see everywhere now, this comes to mind:

The cherry on the top of those GK tidbits is this takeaway: Litmus test your brand’s messaging or campaign with the question, is it “quizzable?” Perhaps a new measure of whether we communications professionals are successful should be whether or not our brands make it onto “Jeopardy!” or “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”  These traditional media programs are going strong in our digital world due to their continued relevance and the belief that a well-informed general public can answer their questions. Hey, we can all help future contestants win that Daily Double and voicemail message from Carl Kassell.