Slang And Spelling Bees Influence Word Searches Over The Past Three Months

We’re already halfway through 2019, which means we had to look back at our word search data! We love data, OK.

Plus, the search trends on Dictionary.com from April through June 2019 did not disappoint.

Politics, of course, drove many of the searches. And, uh, a quick warning: there are some references to adult content ahead. (Hey, we don’t control the words, folks. We document ’em.) 

Without further ado, here are the top 10 most searched words over the past three months.

1. Odylic

Are you be able to spell odylic without looking it up in a dictionary?

No sweat for 13-year-old Rohan Raja. At the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Raja aced this word and joined seven other finalists whose spelling skills were so exceptional they forced an eight-way tie.

The rest of us, apparently, rushed to the dictionary. The day after the bee on May 31, searches for odylic erupted 290,150% on our site compared to the week prior. It’s the adjective form of odyl, a variant of a German coinage, od: “a hypothetical force formerly held to pervade all nature and to manifest itself in magnetism, mesmerism, chemical action, etc.”

We’re wondering: does it manifest itself in spelling too?

2. Circle jerk

Earning the silver medal in most searched is circle jerk.

Searches for this unsavory term surged 244,700% on April 20 after Donald Trump retweeted a comment from a supporter on Twitter. The comment likened the Democratic Party’s interest in the findings of Special Counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (as they were reported by The Washington Post) to a circle jerk, a metaphor for a kind of self-indulgent echo chamber.

We’ll just say that the original circle jerk has nothing to do with snarky remarks in politics … and leave it at that.

3. Smitty

Smitty, yes, is a nickname based on Smith. But, after lookups for it leapt 45,900% on May 1, we’re certain that users we’re hoping to find snitty, or “ill-tempered.”

That day, Attorney General William Barr was characterized as “a bit snitty” in a letter from Robert Mueller that took issue with Barr’s memo of Mueller’s report.

We’re working to add snitty, which is only evidenced since the 1970s, to our dictionary. (Our work here is never done.) We do have snit, a term for “an agitated or irritated state,” as in don’t get in a snit. It spiked 8,170% the same day. 

4. Psalm

It’s like a law of the lexical universe: if Kim Kardashian uses it, people are going to look it up.

This was oh-so true on May 17, when the super-celebrity introduced to the Twitterverse her fourth child (and second son) with Kanye West: Psalm.

Perhaps picking up a religious theme from her firstborn son, Saint, the name Psalm calls up the Book of Psalms in the Bible, with a psalm being a “sacred song or hymn.” Psalm comes from a Greek root that originally meanings “plucking of harp strings,” which music once accompanied such songs.

Searches for psalm sang out to the heavens on May 17. They soared 39,325%. They got a second bump (607% worth) on June 10, when Kim posted another picture of her newborn.

5. Notre Dame

On April 15, Notre Dame, the famous Gothic cathedral in Paris, caught fire. Many of us around the world watched in dismay as the news, and flames, spread. Others of us turned to the dictionary as the medieval masterpiece burned: lookups for Notre Dame climbed 29,440% by April 16.

Related searches also saw significant spikes as people, apparently, tried to make some sense of the tragedy through words. Interest in spire (Notre Dame’s spire ultimately fell to the fire) rose 19,312%, while Quasimodo (the humpback protagonist of Victor Hugo’s beloved novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) went up 8,926%.

6. Busing

The 2020 race for the White House kicked off in earnest on June 27–28 with the first Democratic primary debates—and the search trends kicked off with them.

On June 27, the second night of the two-night debate, California Senator Kamala Harris took on former Vice President Joe Biden for his opposition in the 1970s to desegregation busing. Busing specifically refers to “transporting students by bus to schools outside their neighborhoods, especially as a means of achieving socioeconomic or racial diversity among students in a public school.”

Searches for busing jumped 21,150% on June 28 from the debate and remained high the following day as pundits unpacked the Biden-Harris exchange. An alternative spelling, bussing, also trended by 4,224%.

Another debate-related term, podia was bumped up 2,150% as measured against the previous week on June 26. MSNBC anchor Brian Williams took to this less familiar Latin plural of podium ahead of the debate, which had to accommodate ten such “lecterns” for the candidates.

7. Spying

The word choices of William Barr are a clear theme of our top lookups in the second quarter of 2019. On April 12, spying swelled 18,942% two days after Barr, testifying before Congress, stated without citing evidence that he believed “spying did occur” on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Barr’s use of spying piqued political (and lexical) interest in part because the word spying implies to many that government agents (e.g., the FBI) were illegally trying to obtain secret information or intelligence on a campaign.

8. Unsalvageable

Like politics, sports is no stranger to drama.

Enter Chris Paul and James Harden, star players of the NBA’s Houston Rockets who, in recent months, haven’t seemed like they even play on the same team. On June 19 it was reported their relationship was so strained that it was “unsalvageable,” meaning “unable to salvaged” (i.e., “saved”). Searches for unsalvageable promptly, er, rocketed up 10,920%.

9. Concentration camp

Another choice of words that caused controversy—and significant search trend on Dictionary.com—in the past three months is concentration camp.

On social media on June 17–18, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the migrant detention centers on the US southern border “concentration camps.” The phrase sparked outcry, as many felt she diminished the Holocaust Nazi concentration camps of World War II.

We saw lookups of concentration camp increase to 5,671%. Searches remained well above average weeks after, as her comments were much discussed in the news.

10. Yaaas

We end our top ten with yaaas.

On May 1 for Mental Health Awareness Month, Burger King launched its limited-run Real Meals, a riff on McDonald’s Happy Meals (because “no one is happy all the time,” the tagline goes.) The meals, whose names drew from popular slang terms in the zeitgeist, included the Blue Meal, Pissed Meal, Salty Meal, DGAF Meal, and YAAAS Meal.

Credited to drag (ball) culture, yaaas is an interjection and variant on yes, used as a strong expression of excitement, approval, agreement, or the like. On May 2, search numbers on Dictionary.com for yaaas were crying out, well, “Yaaas!” They rose 5,276% … a real whopper.

There you have it, the top 10 searches over the last three months … and if you can’t get enough of our search trends, check out our analysis of the word searches from the first quarter of the year … and the word searches by state for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. You’re welcome.

If you love data as much as us, you can also check out our newly debuted trending words ticker on our homepage. It reports real-time data of our daily word searches. 

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