As the year draws to a close, there is only one event on everyone’s minds here at Oxford Dictionaries HQ – and it ain’t Christmas.
The announcement of our Word of the Year 2017 is just around the corner, and that’s got us thinking about the highs and lows of the lexical year.
Have you ever wondered which words are looked up most frequently in our dictionaries?
From the steady stalwarts to the surprising spikes, we track the performance of each of our entry pages, and the list of the year’s most-viewed entries makes for interesting reading.
We’ve weeded out the boring bits – you’re welcome – and the words with that whiff of school-boy-humour – any ideas why pron. was in our top 50, folks? – to provide a run-down of the popular, pertinent, and sometimes puzzling words that you’ve been looking up the most this year.
Here are our highlights:
Post-truth, ethics, and the short-lived spikes
Post-truth was our Word of the Year 2016, denoting circumstances in which ‘objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. This notion has remained pertinent – and high in our look-ups – throughout this year, with buzz phrases like alternative facts and fake news propelling the concept into the meme-worthy mainstream.
But with the rug of ‘truth’ pulled out from under our feet, where now do we put our trust? It’s no surprise that ethics also ranks highly in our top entry page list, as some find themselves questioning the integrity of our global media, corporations, and even leaders.
The American political sphere in particular has led to a number of specific, short-lived spikes in look-ups this year. When Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, look-ups for recuse jumped by 2,210% overnight. We later saw a huge spike in look-ups of complicit in mid-March, after an SNL sketch poked fun at Ivanka Trump for her close involvement in her father’s presidential campaign.
However, these news-prompted spikes did not only come from across the pond – Boris Johnson’s unusual and archaic choice of insult to sling at Jeremy Corbyn at the end of April got many fingers tapping and searches for mugwump rocketing.
Power, respect, and the -isms
More broadly, we can see some of modern society’s most prevalent concerns reflected in our frequently visited entry-pages: religion, racism, terrorism, migration, and environment all featured on the list, along with both power and respect.
The struggle for gender equality remains a key issue of today, and both feminism and gender were amongst our top-viewed entries of the year. Interestingly, the Hindi word hijra also made an appearance in our list, a term used in South Asian countries for a person whose birth sex is male but who identifies as female or as neither male nor female.
Now, this post isn’t just about ‘the big issues’ – there are some more light-hearted highlights of the year’s words to talk you through, too.
Those amongst you with a penchant for the sesquipedalian will be pleased to hear that both supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis have spots on the list, the latter being the longest word in English, and the supposed name of a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust.
We imagine (and hope) that it’s because of the word’s length – along with its reputation for being notoriously fiendish to pronounce – that earned it its spot in this list, rather than a spate of self-diagnosis attempts from any of our users who have been feeling peaky.
This latter theory, though, could apply to another big-hitter in our list, the word stress – whose prominent position is perhaps an indicator of the uncertain, anxious times in which we live.
Literally running into some tricky territory
When life gets stressful, sometimes all you want to do is run – or look up run in our dictionary, as the case may be. The word run made the top 75 in our most frequently viewed words of 2017, and as one of the strongest contenders for the coveted ‘verb with the most meanings’ award (put is a close competitor), there’s a lot to get stuck into.
Run has over 650 meanings, including phrases and phrasal verbs, from the most common sense – ‘move at a speed faster than a walk, never having both or all the feet on the ground at the same time’ – to the more paradoxical, like ‘run into the sand’, meaning ‘come to nothing’.
You might say, however, that there’s literally nothing you’d rather do less than read all 650 meanings of run one lazy afternoon. And we’d say, fair enough – but also: do you really mean literally?
The case of literally is a curious one, and the application of this word has no doubt been responsible for innumerable arguments amongst linguists and laymen alike. In addition to its standard usage as ‘in a literal manner or sense; exactly’, the use of literally ‘for emphasis while not being literally true’ is also included in our dictionary. ‘Why?!’, we hear you cry; well, our dictionaries reflect language as it is used in the day-to-day, and language changes, friends.
Thou ain’t gotten it yet?
Thee and thou both feature in the hot list – did you know that in Middle English, thee and thou were reserved for two types of singular ‘you’, while ‘you’ was used for plurals? – as does the hotly contested ain’t, which first appeared in writing in the 18th century (though was undoubtedly used earlier in speech).
Have you gotten all of that? While not used in British English, the use of gotten as a past participle of get is very common in North American English – perhaps it was you Brits checking the word’s validity that caused gotten to be one of 2017’s most viewed entries.
Kudos for getting this far!
Much kudos if you have that tricky duo nailed down. Now the singular use of kudos might raise a few eyebrows, but as our dictionary entry page for the word notes, ‘despite appearances, it is not a plural form’. Originating in late eighteenth-century Greek for ‘praise’, kudos was one of our top 100 look-ups of the year.
Other genial words on our most-viewed list are hygge and serendipity. The Danish mass noun for that ‘quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment’ shot to fame last year, even making our Word of the Year 2016 shortlist – how serendipitous. Serendipity itself was coined by Gothic aficionado Horace Walpole in 1754.
Love towering turrets and spooky subterraneous labyrinths? Then you must be a fan of the Gothic aesthetic – or perhaps that’s just a stereotype. While both these words made our list, stereotype strikes a little closer to Oxford Dictionaries’ roots: it started out life as a term used in letterpress printing.
Ask the audience: chappal
For the vast majority of our most-viewed words, we can surmise the reasoning behind their popularity, but on occasion we can find ourselves rather baffled. This was the case with chappal, an Indian word for ‘slipper’, that saw a massive spike in look-ups on 6 May this year.
Any ideas, folks? We’d love to read your suggestions for the increased attention in the comment section below!
Bae is, like, so swag
Loving bae’s list so far? Bae has been a regular in Oxford Dictionaries’ top trending words over the past year, finally settling at number 18, while swag, meme, and swipe right (or left) of dating app Tinder fame, have also been consistently popular look-ups. Swag in particular has a long and diverse history, with its newest sense entering our dictionary in July this year.
Do you stan for Oxford Dictionaries? Our entry page for stan received a flurry of attention earlier this year after it was mistakenly reported by a number of media outlets that the word had just been added to the Oxford English Dictionary – a different beast entirely to our free online dictionary. To set the record straight: stan was first added to our free online dictionary in early 2016, but has yet to make its debut in the OED.
Will stan enter the OED next year? We’ll have to wait and see, but we’ve no doubt that 2018 will provide a whole new smorgasbord of scribblings and sayings for us to sink our teeth into.