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verb [intransitive/transitive]

to inhale (= breathe into your lungs) the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette


noun [uncountable]


noun [countable]

'Regarding 'second-hand vapour' a study found some pollutants in a small room where a vaper had vaped, but so low that it would prove no danger.'

The Spectator (comments) 21st September 2013

'Touted as a safer alternative to traditional smoking, electronic cigarettes are supposed to give smokers their nicotine fix without the cancer-causing side effects of tobacco. But some have serious concerns that the battery-operated vaping devices may actually pose more dangers to users.'

TheIndyChannel 1st September 2013

'There have been situations when fellow restaurant non smokers have asked the restaurant to advise the vapers to put them out.'

SBWire 18th September 2013

"Do you mind if I vape?"

At the time of writing, a request like this sounds rather odd, but it could become increasingly common if the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes is anything to go by.

because e-cigarettes are a relatively new phenomenon, there has been little independent research into their impact on health, and so the jury is still out on whether vaping is genuinely less detrimental to health than smoking

Though it's certainly not the most attractive of words, vape seems to be emerging as the term we've chosen to represent the action of using an electronic cigarette, more commonly known as an e-cigarette and also shortened to e-cig. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide inhaled doses of nicotine through a vaporized solution. The process of smoking an e-cigarette, known as vaping, mimics smoking a tobacco cigarette. Many e-cigarettes are therefore designed to look like tobacco cigarettes, some models even incorporating a light at the tip which glows orangey-red when the user sucks on the device.

Though e-cigarettes have existed for a number of years, their popularity has gained momentum in 2013, galvanized by more widespread manufacture and availability. E-cigarette smokers, correspondingly dubbed vapers, are often using the device as an alternative to nicotine patches or other methods of 'quitting' conventional cigarettes. Others are former smokers who choose to vape because they believe it to be a far less harmful alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes, the latter sometimes humorously described as analogue cigarettes by analogy with other technical advances (e.g. analogue versus digital cameras etc).

In reality however, because e-cigarettes are a relatively new phenomenon, there has been little independent research into their impact on health, and so the jury is still out on whether vaping is genuinely less detrimental to health than smoking. Vaping proves a little controversial in other ways too. There are currently no firmly established legal restrictions on where vaping is permitted, so vapers could in principle use e-cigarettes in places where tobacco cigarettes would be banned – an issue which has provoked objections. Critics have also pointed out that the variety of delicious-sounding 'flavours' available can entice teenagers to start vaping or, worse still, smoking.

Background – vape

The term vape is of course a contracted form of the word vapour, which has been knocking around in the English language since the late 14th century and has its origins in the Latin vaporem meaning 'steam' or 'exhalation'. Raising the same sort of social issues as smoking, vape mirrors its path of word formation, so for instance we can have non-vapers as well as vapers, and talk about anti-vaping campaigns by those who oppose the habit.

E-cigarette is one of the latest additions to the ever-growing bunch of words exploiting the productive prefix e-, which began life in the early eighties in the word e-mail. Short for electronic, the e- prefix seems to have two incarnations. The first, as featured in e-cigarette, relates to electronic in its basic sense of 'using electricity and electrical parts'. Other examples include for instance e-bike (a bike with an integrated electric motor), and e-waste (used electronic devices that have been thrown away). The second relates to electronic data transfer, usually via the Internet, and features in examples like e-mail, e-learning (computer/Internet-based learning methods), and e-commerce (buying and selling over the Internet). Certain examples, such as e-reader arguably incorporate elements of both senses.

With English as the lingua franca of technology, e- is now used cross-linguistically, favoured as an abbreviation for electronic regardless of how this word translates into other languages.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 29th October 2013.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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