A Word That’s True to Its Core


The summer of 2023 was painted pink. The “Barbie” movie broke records at the box office and inspired “Barbiecore,” an aesthetic “made up primarily of hot pink, and similarly bold rosy hues like fuchsia and magenta,” according to a New York Times article about the rise of Barbie-inspired home décor. “Everything I buy is always a little bit Barbie-esque,” said a homeowner who had outfitted her backyard with a hot-pink aboveground pool and shimmery floats.

Different “core” aesthetics, such as cottagecore (bucolic and breezy), normcore (suburban and antifashion) and darkroom-core (dim and moody), have had their moments — and been subjects of Times articles — over the past decade.

But how did “core,” which may be derived from the Latin word “cor,” meaning heart, come to delineate aesthetic styles?

In its earliest appearances in The Times, “core” was used to mean the central or innermost part of anything, a definition provided by Webster’s New World Dictionary. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s eulogy for President Abraham Lincoln, which appeared in The Times in 1865, described Lincoln as “sound to the core.”

According to a Styles article from 2020, the suffix “(-)core” derived from 1980s hard-core punk music. Grant Barrett, the head of lexicography for Dictionary.com, said in an interview that “hard core” was used decades earlier as a term for “somebody who was truly committed to a political cause or movement.” Consider an example from a 1953 Times article, which described how “a group of hard-core Communists” influenced American teachers.

Taking after hard-core, “core” has been latched on to other styles, which brings us back to Barbiecore. At the aesthetics’s center — it’s innermost, driving inspiration — is Barbie. It’s dressing like her, yes. But it’s also exuding her confidence and positivity. Cottagecore and its long, flowing dresses evoke an easy, pastoral mood. Normcore involves, well, dressing rather plain, in sweatshirts and, according to a Times article from 2014, “Jerry Seinfeld-like dad jeans.” But the look is also about embodying a “sociological attitude” that drops pretenses.

In recent months, “core” has made appearances as an adjective in Times articles about the economy. In August, for example, the reporter Jeanna Smialek, who covers the Federal Reserve, wrote about an indicator of economic health that she said economists were “keenly focused on” called “core inflation,” a measure of consumer prices that excludes food and energy prices.

Whether or not you want Barbiecore to continue to be a trend in 2024, one thing seems certain, at least according to Mr. Barrett: “‘Core’ just seems like a suffix that is going to last and last and last,” he said.



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