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What’s the Word of the Year?

Word of the Year
Word of the Year
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The American English dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster announces their word of the year for 2014. The word is culture.

The publisher bases its choice on how many people look up the word in its online dictionary. Many search for these words after major news events or stories on entertainment and sports.

The editors at Merriam-Webster say “culture is a big word at back-to-school time each year.” But this year the search for culture has extended beyond the school year. A wider use of the word culture might be taking place in daily lives.

The word culture appears more these days in combination with other words to identify behavior, issue, idea or even a group. For example,

  • He says American pop culture is one reason for English’s popularity as a foreign language.
  • Sula Vineyards in India opened a tasting room to create a wine culture among its people.
  • The new Ukraine leaders will have to reform the corrupt political culture that led to the Euromaidan revolution.

The second most-frequently searched word, according to Merriam-Webster, is nostalgia. The word comes from a Greek word meaning "to return home"; it once meant "homesickness" in English. It explains the popularity of Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey.

Number three is insidious, which was on the title of a horror movie. It described malware, computer virus attacks, and Ebola this year.

Coming in at number four is legacy. Changes in the past year made us aware of "lasting impact"; it can mean something we receive from the past or something we leave for the future.

Word number five is something of a legacy itself: feminism. Time magazine used the term “pop feminism” to describe the popularity of female entertainers Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus.

Merriam-Webster’s sixth word is not even in English. It is Je ne sais quoi. It is a French expression that means "a pleasant quality that is hard to describe." In French, the phrase literally means "I know not what."

You may not know what is going to happen next. The seventh word is innovation. The rapid pace of change in our lives was a topic of more than one best-selling book and public discussion about the topic of innovation.

We cannot hide the eighth word, surreptitious. In 2014, we have the 40th anniversary of Watergate with the Nixon resignation. There were many news stories about government data collection, stolen passwords and credit card security.

You are on your own with word number nine, autonomy. The referendum in Scotland, political changes in the Ukraine and Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong reminded us of this idea of independence and the power to govern oneself.

The list comes to a sad end with morbidity. The word morbidity comes from the Latin word for "disease" (morbus) and means "the relative incidence of disease." The word appeared in reports about Ebola.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite new word for this year?​

Jill Robbins reported and wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor. Jim Tedder read it.


Merriam-Webster’s 2014 Word of the Year

1. culture - n. the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

2. nostalgia - n. pleasure and sadness that is caused by memory of something from the past and the desire to experience it again

3. insidious - adj. causing harm in a way that is gradual or not easily noticed; especially of a disease: developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent

4. legacy - n. something (such as property or money) that is received from someone who has died; something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past

5. feminism - n. the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

6. je ne sais quoi - n. English, a pleasant quality that is hard to describe. In French, the phrase literally means "I know not what."

7. innovation - n. a new idea, device, or method; the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

8. surreptitious - adj. done in a secret way

9. autonomy - n. the state of existing or acting separately from others; the power or right of a country, group, etc., to govern itself

10. morbidity - n. the proportion of sickness or of a specific disease in a geographical locality

Now it's your turn. Tell us what you think was the most important word of the year.