Language is ever-changing and dynamic, with certain words coming into fashion more during a particular time than any other. The words we use and search are tied to the times; that is, according to Merriam-Webster’s Year in Review, where they released the most-searched words of 2017.
Most of the words on the list correspond to a significant event or news report that happened this year; whether it’s a cultural trend on the rise, political outbursts or protests. Here are the top 10 words the world looked up this 2017.
The word gaffe, which means a noticeable mistake usually applied in social settings, received a spike in searches after the awkward event at the 2017 Academy Awards when the award for Best Picture was announced for the film “La La Land”, when it was later revealed that “Moonlight” had actually won… as the the cast and crew of La La Land were already onstage giving the acceptance speech. Apparently, the presenters were handed the wrong envelope.
Primarily an American term, a hurricane is the exact same thing as a typhoon, except that the term ‘hurricane’ is used for storms in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific (‘typhoons’ are used for storms in the Northwest Pacific, while ‘cyclones’ are storms in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean). The US and Carribean had four major hurricanes this year, with lookups of the term at its highest before and after a hurricane.
While political and economic terms always make the list each year, for 2017 it was ‘federalism’. In the United States, the term ‘federalism’ spiked in September following the debate on the Affordable Care Act.
This Greek dish has The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to thank for its suden boost in popularity this year, after a video from the show went viral, featuring host Jimmy Fallon and country singer Luke Bryan ordering from a New York City food truck and creating a music video for a song called “I Don’t Know How to Pronounce Gyro.” A ‘gyro’ is defined as “a sandwich especially of lamb and beef, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce on pita bread.” Oh, by the way, it’s pronounced as /YEE-roh/.
Defined as “ “the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system”, ‘syzygy’, pronounced /SIZ-uh-jee/ experienced a surge in searches on the day of the solar eclipse itself, August 21, 2017.
Talk about going back in style. An old-fashioned word made a comeback of sorts after Korean Central News Agency released comments from North Korean president Kim Jong Un that called Donald Trump “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” The term dotard was literally brought back from the dead as it experienced a 35,000% increase in searches.
So just where did Kim Jong-Un pull the term from? According to Merriam-Webster, it’s possible that the unusual word choice could be attributed to out-of-date English-Korean dictionaries in the Republic.
Empathy, “the ability to share another person’s feelings”, had several spikes in searches this year, most notably after Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who was behind Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film The Salesman, refused to travel to the U.S. in protest of the Trump travel ban, releasing a statement that called for empathy ”between us and others, an empathy that we need today.”
The third most-searched word, ‘recuse’, refers to another US political event: in January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would recuse himself from any investigations the Department of Justice might take against Hillary Clinton after politically charged comments he directed towards her during her campaign.
Recuse means “to disqualify (oneself) as judge in a particular case” and “to remove (oneself) from participation to avoid a conflict of interest.” Perhaps a vocabulary lesson our local leaders might want to take a page from?
According to Merriam-Webster, ‘complicit’ means “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.” derived from the Latin word meaning “to fold together.”
The word had the biggest increase in searches after a Saturday Night Live sketch targeting Ivanka Trump was aired, showing a parody commercial for a perfume named “Complicit,” describing it as “The fragrance for the woman who could stop all this … but won’t.”
Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year shows a win for feminists, as the word “feminism” received the highest number of searches this year. Various headline-grabbing issues, with the #MeToo movement one of the most notable, helped catapult the word into mainstream popularity.
Pop culture also played a hand: the word spiked in searches after the release of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the DC film Wonder Woman.
Did you look up these words this year? Let us know!