The word “culture” tops Merriam-Webster’s 2014 Words of the Year list, which was compiled by analyzing the top annual increases on word look-ups on the dictionary publisher’s website. While searches for “culture” previously peaked in the fall, as students used the term in their courses, this year’s results were widespread throughout the year, strengthened by headline-dominating topics like “rape culture” and “celebrity culture.”
“Nostalgia” and “insidious” were number two and three on the list, respectively. Both words gained in popularity, according to a press release, “primarily because of their entertainment connection.” “Nostalgia” spiked in searches related to discussions about backward-looking shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, along with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America. Merriam-Webster Associate Editor Kory Stamper also credits the search surge to political discussions in connection with “the annexation of Crimea and the defeat of Eric Cantor.”
Meanwhile, look-ups for “insidious” increased following both the announcement of horror sequel Insidious 3 and the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first individual in the U.S. to be diagnosed with Ebola. Texas Health Resources called Ebola an “insidious disease,” one where the symptoms don’t show at first, in a statement announcing Duncan’s death.
Elsewhere, the French expression “je ne sais quoi” (which translates to “a pleasant quality that is hard to describe”) proved the power of TV marketing – and the charm of the “Sonic Guys,” comedians T.J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz, who used the term in a recent advertisement for Sonic Drive-In. The word “feminism” also had a strong year, based on its prevalence in the media – from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby verdict to the “Gamergate” controversy. In their latest list of the 100 Most Influential People, TIME Magazine labeled 2014 as the “year of pop feminism,” leading to a look-up spike.
Merriam-Webster’s complete Words of the Year list is available on the company’s website.