Words at Play

Trending at Merriam-Webster: Week of 3/20

Curious what news sent people to the dictionary this week?


People look up random words all the time, but sometimes a lot of people look up the same word—usually because of something in the zeitgeist, such as a shared experience or event.

Installation of the Magritte Museum in Brussels. The word 'surreal', from the artistic movement known as 'surrealism', tends to trend following tragedies.

Lookups this week were completely dominated by the attack in Brussels. But we saw a few seasonal lookup trends as well:

The vernal equinox on 3/20 sent people to the dictionary to look up equinox.

Maundy Thursday trended all week and peaked on the day in question, 3/24. It's the Thursday immediately before the Christian holiday of Easter, but even many Christians don't know what maundy means.

Following the Brussels attack on 3/22, we saw a surge in lookups for surreal. The word also trended after 9/11, the Newtown shootings, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon; it tends to spike whenever there's a tragedy that's hard to wrap one's head around. Other Brussels-related lookups: status quo, nationalism, and complacency.

Also on 3/22, Donald Trump's controversial tweet about Brussels triggered a spike in lookups for vigilant.

A London man who tweeted about accosting a Muslim woman on the street was publicly mocked on Twitter, inspiring a hashtag and a surge in lookups for #mealymouthed.

So much for spring: A snowstorm swept through the central United States on 3/23, causing those affected to check the definition of blizzard.

Lookups for existential spiked after President Obama stated that ISIL was "not an existential threat to us." No, he wasn't talking about Sartre.

And finally, Ted Cruz called Donald Trump "a sniveling coward."

Fewer bombings next week, please.



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