Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Year 2003 to 2011

When the time came for Merriam-Webster to pick its top word of 2011, its editors decided they needed to be pragmatic.

So they chose … pragmatic. 

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The word, an adjective that means practical and logical, was looked up so often on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary that the publisher says “pragmatic” was the pragmatic choice for its 2011 Word of the Year.

Though it wasn’t traced to a specific news event or quote from a famous person, searches for “pragmatic” jumped in the weeks before Congress voted in August to increase the nation’s debt ceiling, and again as its supercommittee tried to craft deficit-cutting measures this fall.

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Merriam-Webster’s annual Words of the Year dating to 2003, when the publisher started making the selection: 

2011: Pragmatic – “relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters: practical as opposed to idealistic.”

Frequently looked up before 2011 Congressional debate on U.S. debt ceiling, and again as Congressional “supercommittee” considered deficit-cutting measures.

2010: Austerity – “enforced or extreme economy.”

Extensively looked up after Greece imposed a series of strict austerity measures, including cutting public sector salaries and increasing taxes, to fight a debt crisis that eventually spread to other European countries.

2009: Admonish – “to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner.”

Extensively looked up after Rep. Joseph Wilson, R-S.C., was admonished for shouting “you lie” at President Barack Obama during a speech to Congress.

2008: Bailout – “a rescue from financial distress.”

Selected by huge volume of lookups as Congress was considering $700 million bailout package for financial industry.

2007: W00t – “expression of joy or triumph, or an obvious victory; abbreviation of ‘We Owned the Other Team,’ originating from computer-gaming subculture.”

Selected as representative of new words, often whimsical and clever, emerging from new technology.

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2006: Truthiness – “truth that comes from the gut, not books.” Popularized by Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert; selected as Word of the Year by Merriam-Webster’s online users.

Picked as national political debates questioned what constitutes “truth,” and whether it is subjective. Deemed by Merriam-Webster as a playful term for an important issue.

2005: Integrity – “firm adherence to a code; incorruptibility.”

Picked as national political discourse centred on integrity, and lack thereof, in public servants on national and local levels.

2004: Blog – “a website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer. Short for Weblog.”

Selected as it rocketed to prominence in midyear, driven by growth and popularity of blogs.

2003: Democracy – “government by the people, especially: rule of the majority, or: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

Selected as one of the most frequently looked-up words each year, especially in a campaign season preceding noteworthy elections.


Source: Merriam-Webster.


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