Dictionary names ‘austerity’ word of the year
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — As Greece faced a debt crisis, the government passed a series of strict austerity measures, including taxes hikes and cutting public sector pay.
The move sparked angry protests, strikes and riots across the country as unemployment skyrocketed and the crisis spread to other European nations. The move also incited a rush to online dictionaries from those searching for a definition.
Austerity, the 14th century noun defined as “the quality or state of being austere” and “enforced or extreme economy,” set off enough searches that Merriam-Webster named it as its Word of the Year for 2010, the dictionary’s editors announced Monday.
John Morse, president and publisher of the Springfield, Mass.-based dictionary, said “austerity” saw more than 250,000 searches on the dictionary’s free online tool and came with more coverage of the debt crisis.
“What we look for … what are the words that have had spikes that strike us very much as an anomaly for their regular behavior,” Mr. Morse said. “The word that really qualifies this year for that is ‘austerity’.”
Runners-up also announced Monday included “pragmatic,” ”moratorium,” ”socialism,” and “bigot” — the last word resulted from public uses by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former CNN host Rick Sanchez and former NPR senior analyst Juan Williams.
“Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the searches on one particular news event, but typically that is what sparks people’s curiosity in a word,” Mr. Sokolowski said.
For example, “socialism” was searched, editors believe, because of coverage around federal bailouts and Democratic-backed federal health care legislation. And editors noticed that “pragmatic” was looked-up a number of times after midterm elections.
According to Mr. Morse, the dictionary’s online website sees more than 500 million searches a year — with most of those being usual suspects like “effect” and “affect.” But he said words selected for the dictionary’s top 10 were words that had searches hundreds of thousands of out-of-character hits.
Also making the top ten list was the word “doppelganger.” Mr. Sokolowski said the word saw a jump in searches after George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “Good Morning America” called “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert “Julia Roberts’ doppelganger.” Ms. Roberts played Ms. Gilbert in the book’s film adaptation and resembles the writer.
“Doppelganger” was also used in the popular television show, “The Vampire Diaries.”
“Sometimes, that all it takes,” Mr. Sokolowski said.
Words “shellacking,” ”ebullient,” ”dissident,” and “furtive” also made this year’s top list.
Allan Metcalf, an English professor at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and author of “OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word,” said the list of words shows how the country is evolving because the public is looking up words that used to be very common.