It’s Official: The Word of the Year is “Austerity”

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How do you know 2010 was a rough year? Check out the words we looked up in the dictionary the past 12 months.

One of these words is not like the others…

  1. austerity
  2. pragmatic
  3. moratorium
  4. socialism
  5. bigot
  6. doppelganger
  7. shellacking
  8. ebullient
  9. dissident
  10. furtive

According to the editors at, these were the top 10 words searched on the popular dictionary website in 2010. And only one of them, ebullient – “showing liveliness and enthusiasm” – is a happy word.

As a sign of the times, austerity – “enforced or extreme economy” – came in first.

Austerity clearly resonates with many people,” said Peter Sokolowski, a Merriam-Webster editor. “We often hear it used in the context of government measures, but we also apply it to our own personal finances and what is sometimes called the new normal.”

So this begs the question: What was the word of the year in 2009? It was admonish, because politics dominated the national conversation.

Admonish shot to the top of the list three days after Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst during a speech made by President Obama, and it remained among our top look-ups for weeks,” Sokolowski said. “When the House announced plans to ‘admonish’ Rep. Wilson, the word was understood to be technical or official, and it has been repeated often in coverage of recent contentious political issues. While this particular story wasn’t very important in the context of a year’s worth of news, it triggered enormous interest in this word.”

In 2008, the word of the year returned to finances: bailout, “a rescue from financial distress.” What will be the word for 2011? While they may include partisan and gridlock, here’s hoping the word for the new year is recovery.

Stacy Johnson

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