Dictionary.com Names ‘Complicit’ 2017 Word of the Year

Word Tied to Trending Data, Global News Events

OAKLAND, Calif., November 27, 2017 – Dictionary.com today announced it has named ‘complicit’ as 2017’s Word of the Year. Defined as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others,” the word is indicative of larger trends that resonated throughout the year, hitting every aspect of today’s culture from politics and news, to environmental issues, business, tech, and more.

“Lookups for the word complicit increased by nearly 300 percent in searches in 2017 as compared to 2016,” said Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com. “We continue to see a direct correlation between trending word lookups and current events, and we find it encouraging that our users are dedicated to understanding the language and words that pop up in the biggest news stories of the year.”

Events that spurred conversations about complicity included investigations of potential ties between the current US presidential administration and Russia, a barrage of natural and man-made disasters, widespread allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and the devastating effects of both mass shootings and the opioid epidemic.

Campaigns, Collusion, and Complicity

Accusations of complicity have been waged from both sides of the aisle. Especially following new movement in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, many Americans are left wondering about potential collusion between President Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin, and who among the inner circle might have known about any potentially illegal activity. It wasn’t just politicians who played a potential role in Russia’s interference with the US election; social networks like Facebook and Twitter showed alleged complicity in promoting propaganda in the form of fake news and purchased ads from Russian operatives. In general, there have been discussions that the Republican party, as a whole, has remained complicit when it comes to several controversies tied to President Trump’s administration, including his own complicity in white nationalism by initially refusing to condemn hateful activity from such groups.

The tables were turned when the infamous Steele dossier was not only linked to a Republican donor, but also to the Clinton campaign through a law firm. The claims of the DNC “rigging” the nomination for Clinton also raised questions into the extent of the party’s involvement in her winning the nomination. Regardless of party, the question remains: how much were various members of each party complicit in these events?

Weathering the Storm

This year saw more than its fair share of natural disasters. And, without having measures in place to curb carbon emissions, many feel that we are all directly complicit in the worsening extreme weather patterns that continue to impact people across the globe. Between a string of devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires in North America alone, countries around the world are grappling with the human impact on climate change. Despite an overwhelming majority of scientists agreeing that humans play a major role in climate change, this was denied by the head of the EPA and sections on climate change were removed from the EPA website. In June, President Trump announced that the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, furthering concern that human complicity is hastening our planet’s demise.

The Scandal that Rocked Hollywood

Widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by producer Harvey Weinstein, which reverberated throughout a number of industries, sparked a turning point in a decades-long reign of those in powerful positions to sexually assault people without recourse. The sad fact remains that the accused, which now include Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, chef John Besh, actor Kevin Spacey, venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck, and many more, could not have carried out their actions without the complicity of many others who acted as direct accomplices or helped cover their tracks and shut down any victims who tried to come forward.

“User lookups on Dictionary.com throughout the year have been indicative of larger cultural issues and debates that have come to a head in 2017,” said Jane Solomon, lexicographer at Dictionary.com. “While a lot of the lookup trends we saw are sobering, they reflect the difficult yet important topics currently being discussed.”

Shattered Communities

The rise of the opioid epidemic has plagued the US over the last several years, becoming the deadliest drug crisis ever in the country with the Department of Health and Human Services reporting opioid-use disorder in more than two million Americans. Many blame the entire healthcare industry for their complicity in the current crisis, between the pharmaceutical companies that began heavily marketing these drugs back in the 1990s, to doctors who carelessly wrote prescriptions for highly-addictive pain medication, even for minor ailments. The long-term effects of these addictions are wide ranging, from newborns born with drug dependencies to communities, especially in the Midwest, Appalachia, and New England regions, being ripped apart from overloaded facilities, frequent overdoses, and caregivers who are too afflicted by their addiction to take care of their families.

2017 was also the deadliest year for mass shootings in the US in at least a decade, including the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting in Las Vegas, which was the deadliest mass shooting by a single person ever in the country. Despite shooting after shooting, excuses ranging from amendment rights to politicizing tragedies too soon have left our entire nation complicit in our gun death epidemic. Debates on gun control rage on, with little to no progress made in any efforts to restrict the ease of possessing a gun. This raises hard questions around how the country will ever be able to curb its disturbingly high rate of deaths from gun violence, especially with many politicians receiving funding from the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America.

Refusal to be Complicit

Despite all of the claims around people and organizations’ complicity in illegal and immoral events, this year saw glimmers of hope through individuals who refused to be complicit. Those who took a stand to inspire positive change include the millions of people worldwide who participated in the 2017 Women’s March to advocate for women’s rights, healthcare, equality, and more. The March on Washington was the largest single-day protest seen in the US ever and hundreds of similar protests were held throughout the world.

Football player Colin Kaepernick sparked a national debate by silently protesting racial inequalities by kneeling during the national anthem, which spread far and wide throughout the NFL and country with #takeaknee. After countless injustices committed against people of color, Kaepernick refused to look the other way and used his large platform as an athlete and role model to fight for civil rights.

Not All News is Bad News

While an overwhelming amount of news throughout the year was negative, Dictionary.com did see several bright spots in trending data, bringing some levity to an otherwise heavy year. Among these trends:

  • ‘intersex’ trended in January thanks to the model Hanne Gaby Odiele speaking up about being intersex to break taboos
  • ‘shrinkage’ trended in February because the house featured on the famous episode of Seinfeld where this term was introduced was placed on the market
  • ‘tarnation’ trended in the first few months of 2017 due to the “What in tarnation” meme, in which people circulated images of animals and objects wearing cowboy hats
  • ‘horologist’ trended this year, thanks to the subject of the podcast S-Town, who worked as a clockmaker
  • ‘totality’ trended in August in relation to the solar eclipse

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