Merriam-Webster Inc., America’s leading dictionary publisher, has announced its top ten Words of the Year for 2013. This year’s list was compiled by analyzing the top lookups in the online dictionary at Merriam-Webster.com and focusing on the words that showed the greatest increase in lookups this year as compared to last year. The results, based on approximately 100 million lookups a month, show that the words that prompted the most increased interest in 2013 were not new words or words used in headlines, but rather they were the words behind the stories in this year’s news.
The Word of the Year, with the greatest increase in lookups, may surprise many people: science. “It is a word that is connected to broad cultural dichotomies: observation and intuition, evidence and tradition,” says Peter Sokolowski, Editor-at-Large at Merriam-Webster. “A wide variety of discussions centered on science this year, from climate change to educational policy. We saw heated debates about ‘phony’ science, or whether science held all the answers. It’s a topic that has great significance for us. And it fascinates us–enough so that it saw a 176% increase in lookups this year over last, and stayed a top lookup throughout the year.”
Another top lookup that saw a significant increase in use was cognitive. The increased awareness regarding concussions in the NFL and NHL, as well as attention paid to traumatic brain injuries sustained by veterans, were big news stories in 2013. “People are not only interested in knowing more about how injuries affect cognitive function, but also how age and other factors affect cognitive function and development,” says Sokolowski.
Users weren’t solely looking up scientific vocabulary, however. Bothrapport and communication saw huge increases in use this year. “Both are tied to an ongoing discussion about the NSA wiretapping program: what constitutes the ‘private communications’ monitored by the NSA, and does the wiretapping program hurt our rapport with foreign leaders?,” says Kory Stamper, an Associate Editor at Merriam-Webster who monitors lookup statistics on Merriam-Webster.com. But the evidence also suggests another reason both words may have spiked. Stamper notes that user comments submitted to Merriam-Webster.com’s Seen & Heard feature suggest that job-hunting dictionary users are looking up these words for use in their résumés.
Rounding out the top five lookups of the year is niche, a word many may assume is tied to product marketing or partisan politics. “Not so fast,” says Stamper. “The spike in lookups may well be entirely related to the pronunciation of the word. Is it ‘NITCH’ or ‘NEESH’ or ‘NISH’?” Perhaps spurred on by a popular Web video on common mispronunciations, the lookups of niche were almost 140% higher this year than last. “It’s a happy reminder that people do use the dictionary to check spellings and pronunciations of words,” Stamper says.
Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2013:
Click on each of the other words in the Top Ten List for their definitions in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:
Photo via: Bebeto Matthews