Judging By Google Searches, Here Are The Things Americans Were Most Clueless About in 2013

“What is twerking?”

The word “twerking” became an overnight sensation when Miley Cyrus showed the VMA audience she was no Hannah Montana. But for everyone who wasn’t tuned into the awards show, there was another way to learn this new 21st century vocabulary word: Google. The Mountain View, Calif. search giant released its annual zeitgeist report summing up what people searched for in 2013–twerking being one of them–and it reveals a lot about what’s on their minds.


As for top trending searches overall, which Google defines as significant spikes in queries over a sustained period, people in 72 countries around the world were looking for news about notable figures who died this year, including former South African president Nelson Mendela (No. 1); Paul Walker (No. 2), the Fast and Furious star who died last month in a car crash; and Cory Monteith (No. 4), the Glee star who unexpectedly died from a drug overdose in the summer.

Top trending searches, globally

  1. Nelson Mandela
  2. Paul Walker
  3. iPhone 5s
  4. Cory Monteith
  5. Harlem Shake
  6. Boston Marathon
  7. Royal Baby
  8. Samsung Galaxy S4
  9. PlayStation 4
  10. North Korea

But what’s especially revealing are Americans’ searches that begin with “what is” and “how to.” Twerking was the No. 1 query in the what-is search category, followed by the poison ricin, which was sent in laced letters to President Obama and other politicians (as some have pointed out in the comments and on Twitter, ricin was also central to the Breaking Bad plot, which could also account for its trending status), and the Defense of Marriage Act. A few topics that dominated the tech press throughout the year also befuddled Americans, including Bitcoin (No. 10), the virtual currency which has had a gangbuster year, and ephemeral messaging service Snapchat (No. 9), which rejected a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook. Americans were also keen on learning about Molly (No. 4), a slang term that refers to ecstasy, as well as gluten (No. 5).

“What is” searches, U.S.

  1. What is Twerking
  2. What is Ricin
  3. What is DOMA
  4. What is Molly
  5. What is Gluten
  6. What is Sequestration
  7. What is Obamacare
  8. What is Lupus
  9. What is Snapchat
  10. What is Bitcoin

The how-to searches also highlighted a certain eagerness to learn new skill sets. Tying ties topped the list, followed by the vague phrase “how to file.” Americans also needed help in the romance department, looking up how to kiss (No. 6) and flirt (No. 7).


“How to” searches, U.S.

  1. How to Tie a Tie
  2. How to File
  3. How to Get a Passport
  4. How to Blog
  5. How to Knit
  6. How to Kiss
  7. How to Flirt
  8. How to Whistle
  9. How to Unjailbreak
  10. How to Vader

Just for kicks, the list of how-to searches from New Yorkers is also particularly enlightening. They not only wanted to learn how to levitate (No. 1) and code (No. 8), but also had trouble with smiling (No. 7), fulfilling a long-held stereotype of the city’s residents.

“How to” searches, New York City

  1. How to Levitate
  2. How to Compost
  3. How to Dougie
  4. How to Squat
  5. How to Fax
  6. How to Fish
  7. How to Smile
  8. How to Code
  9. How to Skype
  10. How to Wop

Finally, for trending gadget searches, it’s not the iPhone 5s (No. 3), iPhone 5c (No. 4), iPad Air (No. 5), or iPad Mini (No. 6) that took the top spot, but the PlayStation 4. Samsung did beat out Apple in generating interest in the gadget category, with the Galaxy S4 coming in at No. 2. The iPhone 6, which does not exist, rounds out the top 10.

Trending gadgets, U.S.

  1. PlayStation 4
  2. Samsung Galaxy S4
  3. iPhone 5s
  4. iPhone 5c
  5. iPad Air
  6. iPad Mini
  7. HTC One
  8. Chromecast
  9. Nexus 5
  10. iPhone 6

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal