Word of the Year – A Bibliophile’s Journey Through the Past

Word of the Year - A Bibliophile's Journey Through the Past

Merriam Webster’s Word of the Year is decided by analyzing which words users have looked up most over the past year. It’s sort of a fascinating snapshot of the past. In looking through the list, I was reminded of events and points in time that I had all but completely forgotten about. One thing’s for sure though, I don’t think I’ll ever forget 2020’s Word of the Year.

2008: Bailout

If you’re currently old enough to legally drink, it’s likely you’re old enough to remember pretty clearly why bailout was the most searched dictionary word in 2008, the year of The Great Recession (yes, that’s actually it’s official name). Now, of course, the recession is not the sole reason for bailout’s increased attention. That had more to do with all that money that we gave to the banks…

2009: Admonish

This is a good word; stately. Admonish: 1. to warn or reprimand someone firmly. Of course, if you remember why it was important in 2009, it wasn’t for very dignified reasons. While President Obama was giving a speech about health care, Congressman Joe Wilson, admonished, “You lie”, in front of the entire House of Representatives. He was immediately admonished by the media, and then later officially admonished by the House of Representatives. So, it was a good word to understand in 2009.

2010: Austerity

Without some explanation, this one threw me off. My brain immediately jumps to Elizabethan times and I was fairly certain that ended a good 400 or so years before 2010, so wasn’t completely sure why the sudden interest in austerity. Austerity comes from a Latin root, meaning ‘harsh’ or ‘severe’ and in 2010, had a lot to do with the stricter spending habits of the government and individuals in the wake of the economic downturn of the previous years.

2011: Pragmatic

In very much the same vein as the previous year, 2011’s Word of the Year reflected spending and budgets for the government. The general mood of the country was about getting back on track economically and “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical, rather than theoretical, considerations.” Sounds like a pragmatic approach.

2012: Socialism

2012, election year! The election dominated the media and national attention. The major healthcare discussion that ruled this election cycle led a great many people to further investigate the actual definition of the word so often thrown around: socialism.

2013: Science

In 2013, climate change became front and center in the minds of many, causing constant debate around science, its efficacy, and its application in policymaking. Also, there was really nothing else all that major happening in 2013. We weren’t immediately bouncing back from a recession. The presidential election had come and gone. It was sort of a year between major drama. Oh, how I took that for granted…

2014: Culture

In 2014, culture jumped to the top of the searches of Merriam Webster’s dictionary. Culture moved to the forefront of the national consciousness, with a greater emphasis on company culture, consumer culture, and cultures of other countries and faiths.

2015: -ism

Okay, so the word wasn’t actually -ism. It turns out that the most looked up words in 2015 all ended in the suffix, -ism. Those words were: socialism (Bernie Sander’s “Feel the Bern!” campaign started around this time and I guess the country collectively had to understand, “democratic socialist”), fascism, racism, feminism, communism, capitalism, and terrorism. This Word of the Year seems little a little bit of a copout. One word to stand for seven? I guess we had a lot going on.

2016: Surreal

Surreal seems a little more applicable to a Dalí painting or even to daily life today, but back in 2016, it was the most searched word. Trying to return to then and understand why this would be applicable, actually brings up quite a few reasons. For one thing, there were shocking terror attacks that took center stage, globally. A truck rampaged through a crowd of people in Nice on Bastille Day and in Brussels, three coordinated suicide bombings killed 32. Add to that, it was a year that politically surprised many people, given the Brexit vote and the U.S. Presidential election, and a great number of people were running to their online dictionaries to find the word to put to what they were feeling. Surreal: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.

2017: Feminism

Searches for feminism spiked at a few times throughout 2017. If you guessed, ‘immediately following the Women’s March on D.C.’, you’d be correct. Another increase in lookups came after Kellyanne Conway’s famous interview in which she declared that she did not consider herself a feminist. The deeply chilling and eerily ‘too close to home’, Handmaid’s Tale premiered in 2017, as did the empowering, Wonder Woman. Oh, and #MeToo took center stage in popular culture. (This is not, however where it originated. Learn more about the incredible woman, Tarana Burke, who started MeToo 10 years earlier.)

2018: Justice

2018 saw a huge uptick in searches for the word justice. This could have to do with the Mueller investigation run by the Department of Justice, the controversial confirmation hearing of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or simply the increased focus on social, racial, and criminal justice. For whatever reason, there were a lot of different uses of justice going around for people to try to understand.

2019: They

2019, the year where Merriam Webster celebrated the singular, non-binary they as its Word of the Year. This shift in the way we use language prompted quite a few searches from people trying to educate themselves and understand.

2019 Runner-Up: Quid Pro Quo – Gee, I’m shocked.

2020: Pandemic

Merriam Webster revealed its Word of the Year recently and I can’t say it’s a surprise… If you had your money on pandemic, then you might just be a little bit richer (although given the current state of the world and the economy, likely not…). Sometimes a Word of the Year comes out and it leads to confusion; we need some further explanation to really understand why it was searched so often, especially a few years on. With pandemic, though, I think we’re all set. Let me know if further clarification is needed. But honestly, if it is, tell me know what rock you’re living under, because I may need to take up residence next door.

2020 is coming to a close, and, well, it’s been a year… A lot has happened, probably most of it already forgotten, but a few things have invariably stuck in our collective minds. Here’s hoping the Word of the Year in 2021 is something like puppies or paradise. I know, it doesn’t seem likely. But hey, a girl can dream!

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