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Word of the Year 2011

SPRINGFIELD, MASS., December 15, 2011–Merriam-Webster Inc., America's leading dictionary publisher, has announced the Top Ten Words of the Year for 2011. The list reflects the interests and attitudes of visitors from around the world to Merriam-Webster.com and LearnersDictionary.com and is determined by the volume of user look-ups on those sites.

Topping the list is pragmatic, meaning "practical as opposed to idealistic," which received an unprecedented number of user lookups throughout 2011. Pragmatic is not associated with any one event but instead describes "an admirable quality that people value in themselves and wish for in others, especially in their leaders and their policies," said Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large at Merriam-Webster. "It's a word that resonates with society as a whole; something people want to understand fully."

Number two on the list was ambivalence, which like pragmatic reflects an overall mood rather than a specific event. Ambivalence is defined as "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward an object, person, or action" and as "continual fluctuation between one thing and its opposite." "We are struck by the unusually large volume of lookups for this word," said John Morse, President and Publisher. "We think it reflects the public attitude toward a wide range of issues, including the economy, the ongoing debates in Washington, the presidential election, and most recently the race for the Republican Party nomination."

Lookups are often influenced by economic and political policies and conditions. For instance, this year both capitalism and socialism appear on the list, with searches for capitalism in particular increasing in the wake of Occupy Wall Street activities.

Other event-driven terms are vitriol, frequently used in the national conversation about political rhetoric that followed the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in January, and après moi le déluge, a phrase used by an influential commentator after the congressional "super committee" failed to reach an agreement in November.

Merriam-Webster's #1 Word of the Year for 2011:

1. pragmatic (adjective)

: practical as opposed to idealistic

Click on each of the other words in the Top Ten List for their definitions in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary:

  1. ambivalence
  2. insidious
  3. didactic
  4. austerity
  5. diversity
  6. capitalism
  7. socialism
  8. vitriol
  9. après moi le déluge

Word of the Year Archive