Words of the Year 2014

02/01/2015

Dictionary giant Merriam-Webster has named 'culture' its word of the year, after analysing lookup rates on its online platform.  While lots of popular words are spawned by specific events or fuelled by media interest, the word 'culture' remained popular throughout the year across a range of different contexts.  According to Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, “We’re simply using the word culture more frequently...  It may be a fad. It may not. It may simply be evolution."

“The word culture’s got a cultural story...  But traffic throughout the year indicates that culture is a chameleon," Mr Sokolowski said. “When you put it next to another word it means something very different. For example, ‘consumer culture’ or ‘rape culture,’ which we’ve been reading about lately...  There’s the 'culture of transparency' in government and business, and 'celebrity culture,' and the 'culture of winning' in sports", he noted. “It’s a word that can be very specific, like ‘test prep culture,’ or it can be very, very broad, like ‘coffee culture.’”

Dictionary.com also ranked popular words for the year, with terms topping the list including 'maleficent', 'misogynistic', 'sociopath'. 'OK', 'anaconda', and 'caliphate'.  While some of these words hold a very obvious place within a specific cultural context, others have a much fuzzier definition.  For example, while no-one is quite sure why the term 'OK' jumped over 7,000 spots in rank, 'anaconda' is an obvious reference to the hit Nicki Minaj song of the same name.  'Caliphate' is another term with a specific origin, jumping 17,000 spots in rank after ISIS declared itself a caliphate and shortened its name to The Islamic State. 

Words like 'sociopath' and 'misogynistic' are interesting for another reason, with specific TV shows and events acting as catalysts for wider social issues.  For example, even though the word 'sociopath' initially became popular because of fictional characters like Hannibal and the Underwoods in the House of Cards TV series, the term has endured as people more readily associate it with real world identities.  'Misogynistic' can be seen in a similar vein, jumping 4,000 spots in rank after specific news events highlighted examples of sexism and gender norms in social media and wider society.

A number of slang words also made an impact in 2014, with Merriam-Webster listing 'vape' in its 10 frequently used words list and Oxford listing 'lolcat', 'hawt', and even 'Canadian tuxedo'.  According to Dictionary.com, notable drops in ranks for the year included 'Facebook' - down 3,574 spots, 'twerking' - down 12,001 spots, and 'furlough' - down 6,972 spots.  Only time will tell what 2015 has in store for us all, and what words we will use to describe and understand the events that unfold over the next 12 months.