Public demand: Words of the Year—2008

December 9, 2008

And the winner is ….


In truth, I’m not sure what any of this has to do with writing. No, wait, that’s not true. But as Paul Constant notes, “It’s like the abbreviated John McCain story.”

And maybe that’s not fair, or perhaps it’s unduly political for our purposes, but the ten words most sought after this year, in terms of inquiries at Merriam-Webster Online are:

  1. bailout
  2. vet
  3. socialism
  4. maverick
  5. bipartisan
  6. trepidation
  7. precipice
  8. rogue
  9. misogyny
  10. turmoil

I notice that elitist isn’t on the list, but at the risk of casting myself in that role, I’ll take a moment to wonder at the fact that turmoil made the list. Write your own joke here, if you’re up to it. For instance, I might say that I’m surprised that people who have to look up turmoil actually know how to look up a word in an online dictionary.

I might say that. But that would be snotty, wouldn’t it? Elitist? Unnecessarily cruel?

Really, though, I didn’t know it was such an obscure word.

We should have a campaign next year, and try to get as many people as possible to look up a word like and as many times as they can remember to do so. Maybe it can make the list.

Anyway, now that I’ve made a complete ass of myself, I’ll also say I was surprised that rogue made the list. Not that it’s necessarily an easy word. After all, I always confused it with rouge when I was younger, which made reading Donald F. Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back an interesting experience. But the two places rogue entered the public lexicon this year were Wall•E and the presidential campaign (e.g., Sarah Palin “went rogue” with the Ayers attack, according to campaign insiders). In the former, I would think the meaning was clear enough; with the latter, I wouldn’t have thought six weeks of interest was enough time for a word to make the list.

The good news? Constant’s interpretation suggests people were, to a degree, tuned into civic issues. The bad news? There are no great buzzwords there for spicing up a manuscript. Couldn’t we at least have seen the return of uncouth, or something?



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