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Words at Play

Pretentious & More: The Words Most Often Looked Up

Top 10 Most Frequently Searched Words on M-W.com


Although certain definitions spike in our search results based on current events (see Trend Watch), this list presents the eternally vexing words that remain among the most looked up over time.

Definition:

expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature

Example:

"You spent 10.5 hours composing your profile and changed the movie choices twice because it was skewing too self-consciously pretentious. You changed the picture three times; now it's both quirky and unstudied." - Sadie Stein, Jezebel.com, August 19, 2010

Definition:

existing or being everywhere at the same time : constantly encountered : widespread

Example:

"High-fructose corn syrup is often singled out as Food Enemy No. 1 because it has become ubiquitous in processed foods over about the last 30 years - a period that coincides with a steep rise in obesity." - Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2010

Definition:

1 : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties

2 : attraction based on sexual desire

Example:

"Scholars, poets, and just plain folks have pondered the meaning and mystery of love for thousands of years, but every definition seems lacking." - Lee Dye, ABC News, October 27, 2010

Editor's Note:

We're guessing that many people arrive at our site with a question - "what is the meaning of love?" - that actually requires answers beyond a dictionary definition.

Definition:

1 : contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives

2 : based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest

Example:

"The rap on ... [the] musical Chicago has been that it was a show ahead of its time, with its cynical take on the idea of celebrity, crime, and the regular folks who would do nearly anything for a moment in the spotlight." - Thom Geier, EntertainmentWeekly.com, August 24, 2010

Definition:

having little or no interest or concern : indifferent

Example:

"Strategists are considering pushing for similar [marijuana legalization] initiatives in 2012 for battleground states ... in an effort to motivate a typically apathetic but largely liberal population of marijuana supporters." - Dave Thier, AOLNews, October 6, 2010

Definition:

an intricate and difficult problem

Example:

"The basic conundrum is that harassment via Facebook, text messaging, and e-mail usually involves off-campus student speech, which is more protected by the First Amendment than what happens on school grounds." - Emily Bazelon, Slate.com, February 8, 2010

Definition:

conceding the fact that : even though : although

Example:

"Poppy seeds contain minute traces of opiates. Both opium and codeine occur in poppy seeds, albeit in tiny quantities. You cannot get high on poppy seeds." - Chris Kilham, FoxNews.com, October 19, 2010

Definition:

capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways

Example:

"Trying to help a table select a wine, a waiter offered two ambiguous adjectives: 'fleshy' and 'funky.'" - Andrea Thompson, The New Yorker, April 12, 2010

Definition:

firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility

Example:

""What they're trying to say - 'We're protecting the integrity' - no, you're not," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. "It's ruining the integrity. It's not even football anymore. We should just go out there and play two-hand touch Sunday if we can't make [helmet-to-helmet] contact."" - Barry Wilner, Associated Press, October 20, 2010

Affect/Effect

Definition:

It's not that people don't know what these words mean; it's that they have trouble remembering which one does what. The simplest distinction here is that affect is almost always a verb, and effect is usually a noun.

These words are frequently confused in part because their meanings are related. For more information, please see our Ask the Editor video.

Example:

"Lithium, after all, can be toxic, and though the levels in the Oita study are too low to have an immediate effect, the element can affect kidney function and cause long-term health problems." - Clay Risen, The New York Times Magazine, December 13, 2009




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