- Merriam-Webster announced its words of the year, and the list included the words that people couldn’t stop looking up in 2018.
- The words included “nationalism,” “pansexual,” and “laurel” of the notorious “laurel or yanny” debate.
- All those words were looked up at significantly higher rates than they were a year ago, the dictionary said.
Merriam-Webster announced its words of the year on Monday, and the winners reflect some of the biggest stories of 2018.
“Justice” was named the overall word of the year, the dictionary announced, while it selected 10 other notable words that people couldn’t stop looking up in 2018.
The words include “lodestar,” an obscure word that took center stage in one of the biggest political mysteries of the year, and “laurel,” which may have been the word you heard in a viral social-media recording from May.
Others on the list were words associated with American icons who died in 2018: “respect” for Aretha Franklin and “maverick” for John McCain.
Those four words, along with the others on the list, were looked up at significantly higher rates than in years past, according to the dictionary.
Read on to see Merriam-Webster’s top 10 words of the year:
People flocked to the dictionary to find the meaning of the word “nationalism” in late October after President Donald Trump described himself as a nationalist during a Texas rally.
“You know, they have a word – it’s sort of became old-fashioned – it’s called a ‘nationalist.’ And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”
Merriam-Webster said lookups for the word spiked 8,000% after Trump used it. The dictionary defines nationalism as “loyalty and devotion to a nation,” especially “exalting one nation above all others.”
Another popular word for dictionaries this year was “pansexual,” which relates to “sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation,”according to Merriam-Webster.
The increase in attention can be attributed in part to Janelle Monáe, the singer and actress who said she identified as pansexual in an interview with Rolling Stone.
One of the biggest political mysteries of the year centered on the use of the word “lodestar.”
In September, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a senior White House official describing a secret resistance against the president within the Trump administration.
As political pundits debated the identity of the author, they zeroed in on one word used in the op-ed: lodestar. The fairly obscure word means “a star that leads or guides” or “one that serves as an inspiration, model, or guide” – and Vice President Mike Pence happens to have a history of using it.
Although some suggested Pence may be the mystery author, others noted the use of “lodestar” could have been clever misdirection from another official hoping to cover their tracks.
The K-Pop group BTS is responsible for sparking curiosity in the word “epiphany,” meaning “an illuminating discovery.”
In August, the word was used in a trailer for the group’s upcoming album, which has racked up almost 40 million views on YouTube.
Comedian Samantha Bee caused a stir in May when she called Ivanka Trump a four-letter word on her show “Full Frontal” over Trump’s silence on her father’s immigration policies.
But what sent people to the dictionary was her use of the word “feckless” in the same insult. The dictionary defines feckless as weak, ineffective, or worthless.
A recording of the word “laurel” – or is it “yanny”? – lit social media on fire in May, sparking endless debate and quickly becoming 2018’s version of “the dress.”
It seemed no one could agree on which word the voice on the recording was saying. As it turned out, the phenomenon was attributed to the different ways our brains pick out different frequencies – an answer that left everyone and no one satisfied at the same time.
In any case, the controversy generated outsized interest in the world “laurel,” a tree or shrub whose leaves are often used for adornment. Merriam-Webster said the yanny-laurel saga caused a 3,300% spike in lookups for the word.
One of the dictionary’s MVPs this year was “pissant,” an obscure word that people looked up 115,000% more than usual when it played a role in a controversy involving NFL star Tom Brady.
In January, Brady cut short his weekly interview with a Boston radio show a week after the host described Brady’s 5-year-old daughter as “an annoying little pissant.”
A “pissant” is “one that is insignificant,” according to Merriam-Webster, noting that it’s “used as a generalized term of abuse.”
“Respect” became one of the dictionary’s most looked-up words after the death of Aretha Franklin in August.
“Respect” is the name of Franklin’s signature 1967 song. Merriam-Webster defines it as “high or special regard” and “the quality or state of being esteemed.
The death of another American icon prompted a journey to the dictionary when longtime Arizona Senator John McCain died in late August.
McCain earned the reputation of a “maverick” for his willingness to buck traditional Republican orthodoxy. Originally referring to an unbranded range animal, a maverick in the political sense means “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party,” according to Merriam-Webster.
The word is Latin for “higher,” and Lee used it as a sign-off at the end of his monthly columns for Marvel Comics.
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