-Core is a descriptor, first and foremost. It’s a vibe. The suffix originated in the 1950s, when the US Supreme Court tried to delineate the boundary between “hardcore porn” and sexually suggestive art. The distinction was appropriated in the 1970s by an emerging subgenre of punk that wanted to position itself at the hard “core” center. The vanguard. In recent years, -cores have proliferated wildly. Think Metalcore. Normcore. The contentious cottagecore.

The creation of -cores has stakes. They not only help identify unspoken collective experiences, but announce one’s position in relation to them. Hardcore only began to have stakes when it was able to recognize itself: “This is hardcore. That is not hardcore.” With the speed of 21st century communication, identifying -cores has become a new way to direct culture. What follows is a seven-part manual for understanding them.

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