Trend Watch



Lookups spiked on December 6, 2012.


News reports about a national vocabulary test revealed that a majority of eighth graders didn't know what the word urbane means.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Education, the test used vocabulary at appropriate reading levels for fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-graders. The average eighth grade score was 265 out of 500.

Urbane means "notably polite or polished in manner." It comes from the Latin urbanus, which meant both "of the city" – the origin of the English word urban — and "elegant and sophisticated," qualities associated with city living in ancient times.

Because urbane was looked up frequently after this news was released, it's probable that eighth-graders aren't the only people who don't know what the word means. One reason, perhaps, is that the word isn't used as much as it once was (as this chart shows) – either because urbanity is in decline, or simply because words like sophisticated are used more often instead.

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