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Pop Culture Words Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 20, 2011

Pop Culture Words

In this study guide, you'll focus on words from the world of popular, or "pop," culture—a general pool of ideas and words informally shared by the public.

Certain words, ideas, attitudes, and beliefs show up in our lives and become, from time to time, popular. Their wide acceptance seems to happen all at once and without any particular explanation. Suddenly, everyone seems to be thinking the same way, doing the same thing, and using the same words. When this happens, when something's accepted as interesting, fun, or fashionable by a lot of people, it becomes part of what we call popular culture.

There's also what's called high culture. It's that collection of arts (literature, opera, philosophy, and so on) that we commonly associate with highly educated, cultured people. For example, Shakespeare's plays, Mozart's music, and museum objects, like the Pharaohs' tombs, are considered high culture. But popular culture has its art collection, too. Harry Potter's adventures are part of popular culture, as are those of Indiana Jones, a curious archaeologist who seeks to discover the secrets of past civilizations.

Popular culture is ever-changing, and new fads keep coming and going at a rapid rate. It doesn't take long for a new idea to become a worldwide idea, as information is widely distributed and transmitted over the Internet.

Most often, new fads in popular culture don't create entirely new words; they use existing, familiar words in a different way to describe what everyone's doing or talking about. When an individual or only a few people do something, or wear something, no one really notices. But when more and more people follow that lead, the pattern becomes a fad, and as its use becomes even more widespread, we call it a trend. Thus, popular culture is formed by the popularization of various trends in every area of life.

Here, you'll find some words that describe current trends or phenomena (noteworthy events or facts) in popular culture. None of these were part of the popular culture 25 years ago, when your parents were your age—the elements of pop culture tend to come and go fairly quickly. As you read this list, write down other current pop culture ideas and trends you've noticed.

Words That Describe Pop Culture Trends

1. anime. This is the Japanese word for animation and has become the word to describe all animation done in the Japanese style, used widely in comic books, video games, and commercials. The comic book store I go to carries a wide selection of anime, which is great because they have become my favorite books to collect.
2. BFF. An abbreviation commonly used in text messaging or instant-message chatting to describe a person's best friend forever. Yesterday I went to the mall with my BFF, Shelly.
3. Craigslist. A network of local communities featuring (mostly) free classified ads in a variety of categories; begun in 1995 by software engineer Craig Newmark, the business is now the single largest classified ad carrier in the world, servicing over 50 countries. I sold my old bike and bought a new, cooler one on Craigslist, and my parents were proud of my ability to handle both transactions all on my own; I only needed them to provide the money!
4. geocaching (pronounced GEE-oh-cashing). A treasure-hunt game in which players search for caches (or boxes), which usually contain logbooks where players record their names. Players place a cache somewhere, tell players worldwide via the Internet the location using latitude and longitude coordinates. Players then use a GPS device (global positioning system) to find the cache. The fun is in the finding; rarely are there any real treasures to be found. My parents are enthusiastic geocachers, and we go out hunting at least one weekend a month.
5. manga. The Japanese word for comic books, printed primarily in black and white; English translations are now very collectible. My dad used to laugh at my collection of manga, but he is now a fan as well.
6. multitasking. The common practice of doing more than one thing at a time. My brother prides himself on being a first-class multitasker: he can talk on the phone, send text messages, and do his homework, all at the same time.
7. organic. Plants and animals grown and raised without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals. Organic food has come to be an ideal requirement of people seeking to live in a healthy and ethical way. Being a vegetarian is not enough for my sister; she insists on eating only vegetables grown organically, and she will no longer touch ice cream, formerly her favorite food.
8. road rage. Aggressive and sometimes violent behavior by drivers who are annoyed by other drivers' behavior; the term was first used in 1984 and has become an internationally accepted idea. The argument between two drivers in the parking lot of our supermarket was the result of road rage, and it ended with one driver in the hospital and the other in jail.
9. shout-out. An acknowledgment or greeting given during a radio or TV show, often to acknowledge fans or family. It was so cool when my aunt Jane gave me a shout-out during her appearance on a game show!
10. speed dating. A matchmaking process in which people meet for brief (7–8 minutes) conversations, then move on to another person. Jason's older sister met her husband at a speed-dating event, and she claims he's the best discovery she ever made.
11. sudoku. A number puzzle in which the player must fill a grid of nine squares with numbers; invented by an American in 1979, the puzzle didn't become widely popular until after its success in Japan. Fans of sudoku, like my math teacher, believe that playing sudoku sharpens the mind.
12. texting. Typing and sending messages via cell phones or other mobile devices. My parents claim they'd have better conversations with me at dinner if we communicated by texting instead of speaking.

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Pop Culture Words Practice Exercises

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