“Austerity” Merriam-Webster’s Word of 2010

Merriam-Webster has made “austerity” it’s word of the year for 2010.

Topping the list is austerity, defined as “enforced or extreme economy.” Lookups for austerity peaked dramatically several times throughout the year, as people’s attention was drawn to global economic conditions and the debt crises in Europe, but lookups also remained strong throughout the year, reflecting widespread use of the word in many contexts. “Austerity clearly resonates with many people,” said Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large at Merriam-Webster, who monitors online dictionary searches. “We often hear it used in the context of government measures, but we also apply it to our own personal finances and what is sometimes called the new normal.”

I’m so cynical my first response was to wonder whether Pete Peterson had bought off the dictionary company like he did the Washington Post. But M-W says the list is based off of top online dictionary searches. Which is why some of the other words are perhaps more interesting:

4) socialism

5) bigot

7) shellacking

9) dissident

Remember, these reflect actual searches of the online dictionary. That suggests a significant proportion of the people still inclined to actually look things up in the dictionary chose (or needed) to refer to the dictionary to figure out what socialism actually is. And did Obama’s use of the term “shellacking” send journalists and Obama fans to the dictionary to find out just how badly Democrats got whupped at the mid-terms?

Use this thread to predict what words will make up next year’s list.

26 replies
  1. WilliamOckham says:

    You can compare these words for usage through the ages (at least 1800 to 2000) here:


    Discussion of the larger project that produced this tool here:


    Austerity was more popular than socialism until the mid 1880’s. I would love to see this extended through 2010 so that we could see the big jump in socialism from Obama’s election.

  2. Arbusto says:

    Unprecedented unemployment
    Collapse of middle class
    Forgotten poor
    Creeping police state
    Ineffectual President
    Venal Congress

    Just a few thoughts

    • timbo says:

      Yeah, I nominate “collapse”.

      Every day there are articles in the paper about how much money the bankers give themselves in bonuses…bonuses that they were giving themselves before the economy fan hit began to smell so bad and that they continue to do now as every state in the Union slides into financial insolvency…thanks to the banks’ thoughtful help and planning…

  3. MadDog says:

    Per EW’s tweet:

    …You’re suggesting Fox viewers EVER use the dictionary?…

    I’m guessing the most popular Fox viewers search WAS dictionary.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      Does a spell checker count? ‘Cause a lot of those folks seem to be able to spell better than their thoughts and ideas would imply.

      Boxturtle (Most popular fox viewer search: *insert name* nude)

      • MadDog says:

        …Boxturtle (Most popular fox viewer search: *insert name* nude)

        Then it’s likely the current most popular Fox viewer search is: Haley Barbour nude.

        Boy are they in for a surprise!

  4. Mary says:

    I’m guessing they went to the dictionary to figure out how whether there’s a K in shellack, like in look and back.

    BTW – the Lahore High Court in Pakistan is ordering the DAG there to investigate a missing doctor, believed to have been disappeared by the ISI. See – that’s the difference between Pakistan and here. Over there, the Courts have to order the DAG to do something. Over here, DAG’s like Comey filed Affidavits without even being asked to by the courts.

    Of course, the Affidavits were to the effect that we can’t talk about our torture victims publically, but still.

    • MadDog says:

      Speaking of things Pakistan, FDL Movie Night is up right now and the topic is the documentary Bhutto with its director Duane Baughman in residence to respond to our questions and comments.

  5. gmoke says:

    With pragmatic austerity, we call a moritorium on socialist bigots and doppelgangers out to give a shellacking to ebullient but furtive dissidents.

  6. jdmckay0 says:

    I have found *all* the dictionaries missing the mark wrt definitions of fundamental importance. Went shopping for one about a month ago, and was amazed at how most of ’em shared this incompetency. The word: principle, comes directly to mind (mostly defined in circular terms). Ended up getting latest New Oxford… better then the others IMO, but…

    In any event, seeing this post I was curious about definition of: socialism. Here’s snippet from Websters online:

    1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

    2a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
    b: b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

    That first one: “any of various economic and political theories”… “any of various”… hmmm.

    And then: “ownership AND (my bold) administration”… so socialism requires both? Taken from context as the term is used liberally by wingers these days, one could reasonably conclude that AND should be an OR. TPM has this morning a thing from TEA PARTY NATION founder Justin Phillips advocating getting rid of the “socialist” Methodist Church.

    Non-socialist accepted beliefs seem to be narrowing the volume of acceptable thought, it seems to me.

    Lastly, however, from that Websters definition was this:

    Examples of SOCIALISM
    1. She is quite right, for example, to stress that Thatcher’s crusade against socialism was not merely about economic efficiency and prosperity but that above all, “it was that socialism itself—in all its incarnations, wherever and however it was applied—was morally corrupting.” —Stephen Pollard, New York Times Book Review, 18 Jan. 2009

    I’m assuming that doesn’t need parsing, particularly in light of current financial collapse… a phenomena incubated in no short supply by Thatcher/Reagan ideas pushed to the limit as cover for private biz malfeasance in saturating fashion, hidden with smoke generated in good part by fear mongering evils of “socialism”.

    Beyond that, countries who have best weathered this financial shit storm… China/Singapore, Brazil, Nordic countries… all have elements of more precise definition of socialism which do not meet the AND definition from Websters. Yet, as used by those fear mongering the notion, really seems to me what they don’t want is oversight, accountability, and law enforcement against fraudulent behavior… rest of society be damned.

    I find misuse of the language generally, promulgated in huge way through Bush years, among the most corroding threads in US society today. Evident everywhere, w/hugely meaningful distinctions watered down to nothingness through convenient mis-appropriation of words.

  7. dustbunny44 says:

    Based on the current list, next year’s list of looked-up words is bound to include compromise (isn’t it the art of getting what you want while not pissing off obliterating the other guy?), segregation (= “local leadership”, right?), filibuster (constitutionally-mandated free speech on the floor of congress), and “net neutrality” (the natural free market principle that allows whoever owns the commons to decide how it’s used). Isn’t ownership of the dictionary wonderful?

  8. JohnLopresti says:

    Well, a song 45 years ago by the youth popular music group Beatles, entitled **The word, love**, was about the first thing that came to mind, projecting forward to search data aggregated thru the year 2011. But, who would need, or want, to lookup *love*? It*s seemingly more fundamental than political theory words like *dissent*; although *dissent* itself may have wordroots in a genre of child psychology research papers.

    On a 2011-as-futuristic note, I would suggest the Large Hadron Collider is about to create some neologisms with its cryogenically enabled, clashing proton beams; however, I fully expect those revelations to require peer review prior to publication in paywall journals, which the New York Times will summarize in abridged form by year*s end. FYI, the LHC already has surpassed the energies available at Brookhaven and Fermilab, proceeding well into teravolt range; so it*s all new territory in particle physics from this interstice forward. Maybe all that will result from the LHC neolexicon is a popularization of the term **gluon**; there*s a word with intrinsic charm.

    However, I suspect the Merriam Webster statistics are imprecise, simply opining as I do from the perspective of someone who has had to learn linguistic-variety definitions in order to further my own work. Merriam always was far from the most complete or accurate reference. It is a pity Webster morphed so much. And the various wiki*s tend to be mostly the screed of the latest pirate, about as informative as fable telling, although every situation may be seen as embodiment of its own allegory.

    So, I guess my two nominees are: love; and gluon. Such a sparse vocabulary upon which to launch the new decade. If I keep reading emptywheel, I am certain to learn some new words, though, every day.

  9. rosalind says:

    ot: via a Howie Klein tweet, kkkarl jr. has got himself a place on the house judiciary committee:

    The House Republican Leadership recently announced that incoming Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Arkansas Congressman Tim Griffin have been assigned seats on Rep. Lamar Smith’s Judiciary Committee…Now, two former US Attorneys who resigned under the cloud of scandal will have seats on the Judiciary Committee. By selecting Marino and Griffin, the Republican leadership rewarded coveted posts to two freshmen with serious and troubling ethics questions on the committee which oversees the court system, the rule of law, and law enforcement.

    and the scales of justice sink further out of whack…

  10. bmaz says:

    By the way, for those of you wondering where in the world we are, I am awaiting an email from Judge Walker’s court containing the big opinion/ruling on damages, attorney fees and punitive damages in al-Haramain. It is pretty important, and we will have it up just as soon as it is received.

  11. timbo says:

    OT: START treaty looks like it’s about to clear the Senate under the waved rules! Makes one wonder why this couldn’t have happened before the 2010 election…

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