The most searched word of 2018 tells us a lot about our society

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

You won’t be surprised to hear what one of this year’s most searched for words is…

The way we use words reflects the times – and this year’s word of the year certainly does that.

Dictionary makers Merriam-Webster picks a word every year that it says captures the spirit of the previous twelve months. In 2017, the word was “feminism”, 2016’s was “surreal”, and in 2015 it was “ism” – in socialism, fascism and racism.  It’s clear that their choice is a sign of the times. 

And this year? You won’t be surprised to hear that the word they chose was “justice”.

With #MeToo, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the Trump-Russia probe and more, the concept of justice was “at the centre of many of our national debates this year,” Merriam-Webster wrote in a post explaining the choice.  “Racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice”. 

“In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.”

“Justice has varied meanings that do a lot of work in the language—meanings that range from the technical and legal to the lofty and philosophical. For many reasons and for many meanings, one thing’s for sure: justice has been on the minds of many people in 2018.”

Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski told the Associated Press that the company was “not editorialising” and that they simply “look at the data… and we were ourselves surprised by this word”.

“This is a word that people have been thinking about for this entire year.” 

Other popular words this year include ‘nationalism’, searches for which spiked by 8,000% on October 22nd and 23rd after President Trump described himself using the world at a rally in Texas. Pansexual, epiphany, feckless and respect were also on the list. 

Elsewhere, other words of the year were slightly less uplifting than justice – the Oxford English Dictionary picked “toxic”, often when used in conjunction with “masculinity”.

“The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance,” it wrote. “In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics. It is the sheer scope of its application, as found by our research, that made toxic the stand-out choice for the Word of the Year title.”

Reflecting the times perhaps even more accurately, the OED list also included gaslighting, incel, and big dick energy – and if that doesn’t sum up 2018, we don’t know what does.

Images: Unsplash