Why “Bluster” Was Dictionary.com’s 2012 Word Of The Year

The 2020 Word of the Year has pushed its way to the forefront of our thoughts. Find out what it is here!

You may recall that last year we selected a rare word, a tongue-twister of sorts, as the 2011 Word of the Year: tergiversate which means β€œto change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.” Rather than pick a word that rose to prominence through common usage during the year (like Occupy or Arab Spring), we selected a word hidden in the dictionary that encapsulated an overall quality of 2011.

Now, what of 2012? To be frank, this year has been lexicographically quiet. There were no Arab Springs or Occupies, and few unusual words took on new or heightened meanings because of contemporary events. Where were the tebowing and pinking of 2012? Perhaps we were too distracted by serious political events to go around making up words. Surprisingly, the campaigns themselves weren’t fodder for prickly neologisms either.

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. Man-made disasters spiraled as the European Central Bank continued to hem and haw over bailouts and austerity, and Greeks went to the polls after years of uncertainty. Even after many spilled words, the stability of the Euro fuels debate around the world. So what one word conveys these dominant trends of 2012? Bluster.

In Old English “bluster” meant “to wander or stray,” and today it has a few, closely related meanings. It means both “to roar and be tumultuous, as wind” and “noisy, empty threats or protests; inflated talk.” 2012 was full of bluster from the skies and from the mouths of pundits. As the US Congress faces the looming fiscal cliff, we can only anticipate more bluster from politicians. Hopefully, the bluster will only come from them, not from more nor’easters and early winter storms.

Even without new coinages English is such a ripe and fertile language that we didn’t need to look far for a word to sum up this year. We believe that the act of finding a perfect word when searching for meaning can help one overcome challenges of all kinds, natural, political, or otherwise because no problem can be solved until it is articulated. We hope Dictionary.com can continue to serve as an aid against confusion for years to come.

Popular References:

“It’s all part of the election season’s bluster cycle, and while partisan hot air is typical this time of year, this year’s squabbling has been “palpably ugly,” even if most of it is just talk…”

Election Season Bluster,” by Elliot C. McLaughlin, CNN Politics

“Greece may be a small economy, but a Greek departure from the euro, amid brinkmanship and bluster, would not be a small event.”

The Greek Run,” The Economist

“Something of the typical Republican bluster was on display from our commander-in-chief — not egregiously so, but it was there.”

Exceptional Nations Don’t Need Bluster,” by Carla Seaquist, Huffington Post

“So this is an odd time to be making confrontations over China’s currency a centerpiece of your economic policy β€” unless, of course, it’s just bluster aimed at making voters think you’re tough.”

An Issue Whose Time Has Passed,” by Paul Krugman, The New York Times (Blog), 10/22/2012

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