“Justice” has been selected as Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year.
The dictionary publisher revealed its pick Monday, having chosen the term based on the number of times it was looked up on its website, but it’s also a sign of the times.
Behind the uptick in searches for the word is the staggering amount of news coverage of the Justice Department as well as its focus in national debates throughout the year, the publisher explained in a press release. Social and criminal justice have been particularly hot topics in 2018, driving up public interest in the word.
However, President Donald Trump’s Twitter habit was another contributing factor. According to Merriam-Webster, there was a “spike in lookups of obstruction of justice in August, when President Trump tweeted his wish for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the Mueller investigation.”
“It’s often familiar words for abstract concepts that are among the most looked up words,” said Emily Brewster, the publisher’s associate editor and editorial ambassador. “When common words like justice are used in contexts that are very specific, technical, or legal, people look them up in the dictionary for the detail and nuance that a definition can provide.”
That wasn’t the only term on the minds of many people this year. Another contender for the top spot was lodestar, a buzzword that gained popularity in September for its placement in the anonymously written New York Times op-ed from a Trump administration insider claiming to be part of the resistance. Speculation quickly grew over Vice President Mike Pence’s potential authorship of the editorial, since the rather uncommon word is known to be one of his favorites.
Deaths of prominent people also influenced search habits, including “respect” for singer Aretha Franklin, “excelsior” for Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and “maverick” for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
For Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, it’s a sign that words matter.
“Through the dictionary, we can make these connections with words that tell us something about our culture, our language, and ourselves,” he said.