A History: Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year

Word of the Year

Our Word of the Year choice serves as a symbol of each year’s most meaningful events and lookup trends. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the language and ideas that represented each year. So, take a stroll down memory lane to remember all of our past Word of the Year selections.

Change

It wasn't trendy, funny, nor was it coined on Twitter, but we thought change told a real story about how our users defined 2010. Unlike in 2008, change was no longer a campaign slogan. But, the term still held a lot of weight. Here's an excerpt from our Word of the Year announcement in 2010:

The national debate can arguably be summarized by the question: In the past two years, has there been enough change? Has there been too much? Meanwhile, many Americans continue to face change in their homes, bank accounts and jobs. Only time will tell if the latest wave of change Americans voted for in the midterm elections will result in a negative or positive outcome.

Tergiversate

This rare word was chosen to represent 2011 because it described so much of the world around us. Tergiversate means "to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc." Editors at Dictionary.com saw the stock market, political groups, and public opinion go through a roller coaster of change throughout 2011. And so, we named tergiversate the 2011 Word of the Year.

Bluster

In a year known for the Occupy movement and what became known as the Arab Spring, our lexicographers chose bluster as their Word of the Year for 2012. Here's an excerpt from our release that year that gives a pretty good explanation for our choice:

2012 saw the most expensive political campaigns and some of the most extreme weather events in human history, from floods in Australia to cyclones in China to Hurricane Sandy and many others.

Blustery indeed.

Privacy

We got serious in 2013. Privacy was on everyone's mind that year, from Edward Snowden's reveal of Project PRISM to the arrival of Google Glass. Here's an excerpt from our announcement in 2013:

Many of us have embraced social media, choosing to volunteer intimate particulars and personal photographs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; this robust participation echoes an observation by Mark Zuckerberg in 2010 that the public’s comfort level with sharing personal information online is a “social norm” that has “evolved over time.” Even so, a recent survey by Harris Poll shows that young people are now monitoring and changing their privacy settings more than ever, a development that USA Today dubbed the “Edward Snowden effect.”

Exposure

Spoiler alert: Things don't get less serious in 2014. Our Word of the Year was exposure, which highlighted the year's Ebola virus outbreak, shocking acts of violence both abroad and in the US, and widespread theft of personal information. Here's what we had to say about exposure in 2014:

From the pervading sense of vulnerability surrounding Ebola to the visibility into acts of crime or misconduct that ignited critical conversations about race, gender, and violence, various senses of exposure were out in the open this year.

Identity

Fluidity of identity was a huge theme in 2015. Language around gender and sexual identity broadened, becoming more inclusive with additions to the dictionary like gender-fluid as well as the gender-neutral prefix Mx. Racial identity also held a lot of debate in 2015, after Rachel Dolezal, a white woman presenting herself as a black woman, said she identified as biracial or transracial. Our Word of the Year in 2015 reflected the many facets of identity that surfaced that year.

Xenophobia

In 2016, we selected xenophobia as our Word of the Year. Fear of the "other" was a huge theme in 2016, from Brexit to President Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric. In our announcement, we urged our readers to reflect on this term rather than celebrate it:

Despite being chosen as the 2016 Word of the Year, xenophobia is not to be celebrated. Rather it’s a word to reflect upon deeply in light of the events of the recent past.

Complicit

The word complicit sprung up in conversations in 2017 about those who spoke out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stayed silent. It was a year of real awakening to complicity in various sectors of society, from politics to pop culture. From our 2017 Word of the Year announcement:

Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not. It’s a word that reminds us that even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point. We must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit.