Press Release

2014 Word of the Year


SPRINGFIELD, MASS., December 15, 2014—Merriam-Webster Inc., America's leading dictionary publisher, has announced its top ten Words of the Year for 2014. This year's list was compiled by analyzing the top lookups in the online dictionary at and focusing on the words that showed the greatest increase in lookups this year as compared to last year. The results, based on approximately 100 million lookups a month, shed light on topics and ideas that sparked the nation's interest in 2014.

The Word of the Year, with the greatest number of lookups and a significant increase over last year, is culture. Culture is not associated with any one event, but instead dominated the headlines this year, on topics ranging from "celebrity culture" to "rape culture" to "company culture." In years past, lookups for the word culture spiked in the fall, as students encountered the word in titles and descriptions of courses and books, but this year lookups have moved from seasonal to persistent, as culture has become a term frequently used in discussions of social phenomena.

"Culture is a word that we seem to be relying on more and more. It allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group with seriousness," explains Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster. "And it's efficient: we talk about the 'culture' of a group rather than saying 'the typical habits, attitudes, and behaviors' of that group. So we think that it may be the increased use of this newer sense of the word culture that is catching people's attention and driving the volume of lookups."

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2014:

  1. culture
  2. nostalgia
  3. insidious
  4. legacy
  5. feminism
  6. je ne sais quoi
  7. innovation
  8. surreptitious
  9. autonomy
  10. morbidity

The next two words on the list, nostalgia and insidious, saw huge increases in use this year, primarily because of their entertainment connection. Nostalgia was used in discussions about the television series Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, and other cultural milestones like the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in America. "We saw more than a 100% increase in lookups of nostalgia this year," says Kory Stamper, an Associate Editor at Merriam-Webster. "It was certainly used in reference to pop culture and television, but it was also used as a way to frame larger political discussions. We spotted examples of nostalgia used in connection with the annexation of Crimea and the defeat of Eric Cantor. People often think of nostalgia as a return to 'good old days,' so these uses that go beyond the personal may have surprised some readers and sent them to the dictionary."

Lookups for insidious spiked when the horror sequel Insidious 3 was announced, but a more poignant use of insidious followed the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.

The power of media can be seen with je ne sais quoi, a French expression meaning "a pleasant quality that is hard to describe." The phrase appeared in a new television commercial for Sonic Drive-in restaurants, sending viewers who were unfamiliar with the phrase to the dictionary to find out what "that certain je ne sais quoi" really means.

Lookups for feminism were strong throughout the year, as the word was used in many highly publicized comments–from the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision to the Gamergate controversy. One big spike came after TIME announced its 100 Most Influential People–a list including Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, and Pharrell Williams. TIME's claim that 2014 was the "year of pop feminism" sent many people to the dictionary.