Merriam-Webster names ‘culture’ 2014’s Word of the Year

According to the dictionary’s editor, it’s a ‘chameleon’ term, which also described many Internet conversations this year.

The wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster have named “culture” the 2014 word of the year.

The word was chosen based upon its high search rankings on the dictionary’s website, which gets around 100 million page views every month.

“This gives us a sense of what people are thinking about,” Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski says. “We’re kind of eavesdropping on a national conversation.”

Sokolowski says “culture” is a “chameleon of a word” and further explains:

The term conveys a kind of academic attention to systematic behavior and allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group: we speak of a “culture of transparency” or “consumer culture.” “Culture” can be either very broad (as in “celebrity culture” or “winning culture”) or very specific (as in “test-prep culture” or “marching band culture”).

Merriam-Webster’s top 10 words of 2014 also included “nostalgia” (pleasure or sadness caused by remembering the past), “insidious” (causing harm gradually), “legacy” (something coming from someone in the past), “feminism” (the belief that men and women should have equal rights) and “surreptitious” (describing a stealthy action).

Many of Merriam-Webster’s top words, including “culture,” encompassed the themes of 2014’s top Internet searches and social media conversation.

Google’s top search terms for the year included crisis situations and the groups that caused them: ISIS, Malaysia Airline flight MH370 and Ebola. Other events such as the World Cup, the ALS ice bucket challenge and the Sochi Olympics made the list, too.

Twitter’s 2014 most popular subjects included many of the same topics as Google’s top search terms, with additional tweets honoring the legacies of actors Robin Williams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who both died this year, and Derek Jeter, who retired from Major League Baseball after an exemplary 20-year career.

Dictionary.com announced “exposure” as its 2014 Word of the Year in November. As reasons for the decision, site editors cited the Ebola outbreak, along with unrest in Ferguson, Missouri; the NFL scandal involving Ray Rice; and the plethora of hackings that took place this year.

“Vulnerability and visibility were at the core of the year’s most notable headlines,” reads the post from Dictionary.com’s blog explaining the choice.

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