Fellow namers and word nerds, have Christmas and Hanukkah come early? Merriam-Webster, America’s “leading provider of language information,” recently announced its top 10 words of 2022.
How does Merriam-Webster choose its top word?
Data on “lookups” is how Merriam-Webster chooses its word of the year. In a November 2022 article published by PBS, Leanne Italie of The Associated Press further explains the process, punctuated by an interview with Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, Peter Sokolowski:
Merriam-Webster, which logs 100 million page views a month on its site, chooses it’s work of the year based solely on data. Sokolowski and his team weed out evergreen words most commonly looked up to gauge which word received a significant bump over the year before.
They don’t slice and dice why people look up words, which can be anything from quick spelling and definition checks to some sort of attempt at inspiration or motivation…
Actually, Sokolowski and his colleagues were surprised by the top word. He said, “It’s a word that has risen so quickly in the English language, and especially in the last four years…It was a word looked up frequently every single day of this year.”
Without further adieu, let’s dive into the words that mark our culture, or at least our collective curiosity…
#1 word of the year: gaslighting
According to Merriam-Webster, “our 2022 word of the year is ‘gaslighting’.” The article begins:
In this age of misinformation—of “fake news,” conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes—gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time.
A driver of disorientation and mistrust, gaslighting is “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” 2022 saw a 1740% increase in lookups for gaslighting, with high interest throughout the year.
The origin of “gaslighting”
The term “gaslighting” derives from the 1938 British stage play Gas Light (originally known as Angel Street in the United States), and the 1940 (British) and 1944 (US) film adaptations. Directed by George Cukor, the 1944 American version of this mystery-thriller stars Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, and an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut.
The plot concerns a husband who attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment. He insists that she is mistaken or misremembering when she points out these changes. The title stems from the husband’s subtle dimming of the house’s gas lights, which she accurately notices. However, her husband insists she’s imagining it all.
“The perception of deception”
Merriam-Webster punctuates the film’s plot line in its recent announcement about gaslighting:
English has plenty of ways to say “lie,” from neutral terms like falsehood and untruth to the straightforward deceitfulness and the formally euphemistic prevarication and dissemble, to the innocuous-sounding fib. And the Cold War brought us the espionage-tinged disinformation.
In recent years, with the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead, gaslighting has become the favored word for the perception of deception. This is why (trust us!) it has earned its place as our Word of the Year.
This is when Merriam-Webster drops the mic.
Other top words of 2022
With gaslighting in the #1 “lookup spot,” that leaves nine remaining words in Merriam-Webster’s top of the year list. Here’s the list, as described by the aforementioned PBS/Associated Press article (including Zinzin-added links for word wormhole divers out there):
- “Oligarch,” driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- “Omicron,” the persistent COVID-19 variant and the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
- “Codify,” as in turning abortion rights into federal law.
- “Queen consort,” what King Charles’ wife, Camilla is newly known as.
- “Raid,” as in the search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
- “Sentient,” with lookups brought on by Google canning the engineer who claimed an unreleased AI system had become sentient.
- “Cancel culture,” enough said.
- “LGBTQIA,” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual, aromantic or agender.
- “Loamy,” which many Wordle users tried back in August, though the right word that day was “clown.”
Depending on your source, the English language contains anywhere from 1 million words to “there is no exact count” because language is ever-expanding and flexible.
So, we think the fact that Merriam-Webster can identify 10 words as the most popular in a single year is pretty remarkable. Or is it remarkable that people are all looking up the same words after a current event? Or maybe (in the case of ‘loamy’ anyway), it’s because of the viral, web-based word game, Wordle (inspired by the name of its developer, Josh Wardle). There’s a little word trivia for ya.
Word nerds, unite
Whatever the reason for these annual word popularity contests, we revel in them — in words, in general. As we’ve said before, if writers love sentences, then namers love words. We study and play with them. Laugh and sneer at them. Sometimes we break them apart, and other times we invent new ones. We delight in the challenge of distilling a message or emotion into one or two words that truly evoke a brand position.
Goblin Mode & Wordle
Lastly, between the time we wrote and published this post, the Oxford University Press announced their 2022 word of the year, by vote: Goblin mode. It’s a slang term that refers to a type of behavior which is “unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.”
On top of that, Google recently declared Wordle as their top search term of 2022 (both in America and across the world). Wow. It even beat out search terms, such as “Queen Elizabeth,” “Ukraine,” and “election results.”
If you have a favorite (or least favorite) word from this year’s list, tell us about it in the comment section below. Also feel free to chime in if you have any premonitions about top words for 2023!