Or at least they’re trying to find out what those who are calling for such moves are trying to impose, based on Merriam-Webster Inc’s choice for the 2010 Word of the Year, based on the volume of user lookups at “America’s leading language reference publisher’s” web site.
Topping the list (and thus becoming the word of the year) is “austerity”, defined as “enforced or extreme economy.” According to the announcement, lookups for austerity “peaked dramatically several times throughout the year, as people’s attention was drawn to global economic conditions and the debt crises in Europe.” However, they note that lookups also remained strong throughout the year, “reflecting widespread use of the word in many contexts”.
“Austerity clearly resonates with many people,” said Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large at Merriam-Webster, who monitors online dictionary searches. “We often hear it used in the context of government measures, but we also apply it to our own personal finances and what is sometimes called the new normal.”
Number two on the list is pragmatic, a word that rose steadily in searches this year, both during the election season and the political negotiations that followed. “In a way, the popularity of pragmatic is reminiscent of 2005, when integrity was the most frequently looked-up word,” said John M. Morse, President and Publisher of Merriam-Webster. “In both cases, I think the word described a quality that people value highly, want to understand fully, and are looking for in their leaders.”
Although a number of words on this year’s list reflect a somber national mood, one notable exception is ebullient – “having or showing liveliness and enthusiasm” – which leaped to the top of the searches as the world watched the rescue of the Chilean miners.
The rest of the 2010 list:
More information (and definitions of the Top 10 2010 words) is at http://www.merriam-webster.com/info/10words.htm
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