Halfway through 2012, weed could have been described as shoo-in for the losers side of this ranking. By September, the DEA had closed more than 800 medical marijuana dispensaries in California, despite a state law allowing the medicinal sale of the drug.
But on Election Day, long standing policies and stigmas associated with marijuana took a big hit. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved amendments that decriminalized weed, allowing the states to regulate the drug similar to the way states oversee alcohol sales. The measures had such a global impact that similar reforms are being talked about in countries like Uruguay and Argentina.
Some things take time to develop before they can really shine. Enter the Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF file, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012, and in the process, became as ubiquitous on the Internet as a "share" button.
Anyone (and seemingly everyone) with access to Photoshop and YouTube was filling web space with these video clips over the course of the year. Want to see McKayla Maroney stick her vault landing during the London Olympics? There's a GIF for that. Want to relieve that ridiculous moment from your favorite TV show? There's a GIF for that. Want to poke some fun at Vice President Joe Biden? There's plenty of GIFs for that.
The GIF was so popular this year, Oxford Dictionary named it The 2012 Word of the Year. Now if the public can only figure out how to pronounce it.
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Greg Otto is a news editor at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.