People look up random words in the dictionary all the time, but sometimes a lot of people look up the same word—usually because of something in the zeitgeist, such as a shared experience, event, or celebrity pronouncement. Merriam-Webster.com keeps track of spikes in word lookups, and those spikes reveal what’s happening in the world, how people are talking about it, and what we’re noticing about what they’re saying. For the week of March 20, springtime, politics, and tragedy drove people to the dictionary.
The vernal equinox on 3/20 sent people to the dictionary to look up equinox.
Maundy Thursday trended all week and peaked on the day in question, 3/24. It's the Thursday immediately before the Christian holiday of Easter.
Following the Brussels attack on 3/22, we saw a surge in lookups for surreal. The word also trended after 9/11, the Newtown shootings, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon; it tends to spike whenever there's a tragedy that's hard to wrap one's head around. Other Brussels-related lookups: status quo, nationalism, and complacency.
Also on 3/22, Donald Trump's controversial tweet about Brussels triggered a spike in lookups for vigilant.
A London man who tweeted about accosting a Muslim woman on the street was publicly mocked on Twitter, inspiring a hashtag and a surge in lookups for #mealymouthed.
So much for spring: A snowstorm swept through the central United States on 3/23, causing those affected to check the definition of blizzard.
Lookups for existential spiked after President Obama stated that ISIL was "not an existential threat to us."
And finally, Ted Cruz called Donald Trump "a sniveling coward."