There were a number of attention-getting words this year, from bae, to normcore, to vape (Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year). But a word need not be shiny and new to get special attention. Merriam-Webster decides on their word of the year by tracking which words people look up in their online dictionary. This year, the word with the greatest increase in look-ups was culture.
Culture is not a difficult word, so what would drive people to look it up? As Editor at Large Peter Sokolowski explains, we use the dictionary not just when we have no idea what a word means, but “to be more precise in our language, to confirm what we already know, or maybe to make sure that a word that we encounter frequently is exactly what we think it is.” Culture was everywhere this year, in phrases like celebrity culture, rape culture, gamer culture, and company culture. As Sokolowski says, “it’s a word that we seem to be relying on more and more. It allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group with seriousness.” It’s also a lot easier to “talk about the ‘culture’ of a group rather than saying ‘the typical habits, attitudes, and behaviors’ of that group. So we think that it may be the increased use of this newer sense of the word culture that is catching people's attention and driving the volume of lookups.”
Other top look-ups included nostalgia, insidious, legacy, innovation, feminism, morbidity, autonomy, and surreptitious. Also on the list? Je ne sais quoi, which spiked after a commercial for Sonic restaurants that used the phrase started airing.
See the list (and get the definitions) here.