Our words reflect the pulse of our nation

Published 8:43 am Wednesday, January 24, 2007

By Staff
Surveys can tell a lot about what a group of people believe, about new ideas and what words are used to reflect these thoughts.
The Merriam-Webster's online dictionary collects and studies new words.
To be included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary online, "a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time."
A citation includes an example of the word used in context.
Specifically, according to their criteria, "the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning."
Recently the top Words of the Year for 2006 were determined by votes from visitors to the Internet site.
The number one word was truthiness, a noun, introduced by Stephen Colbert on his "The Colbert Report," on Comedy Central in October 2005.
Its meaning was said to be, "truth that comes from the gut, not books."
Truthiness took the majority of votes by five to one.
The other top 10 included, in order from two to 10: google, decider, war, insurgent, terrorism, vendetta, sectarian, quagmire and corruption.
It is easy to see the list reflects where much of our daily news centers, the war in Iraq and the scandals by CEOs in business.
The words we chose to use in our everyday life also can reflect our state of mind and what we are concerned about.
The 2005 Merriam-Webster Word of the Year, receiving the largest number of user requests by a wide margin, was integrity, defined as: "firm adherence to a code, especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility."
Has integrity been lost lately, in politics, religion and in sports?
"People do often look up the meanings of words that have special significance to current events and issues," said John M. Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster.
"Perhaps it's not too much of a stretch to think that recent political and social developments have made the word integrity particularly appropriate to issues that people are talking about," he said, after the announcement of the 2005 top word.
As has been the case in the past, many of the top 10 words on Merriam-Webster's 2005 list come directly from news media headlines. Hurricane Katrina led to the biggest event-related word of the year and holder of the number two spot – the word refugee.
Many questioned whether the word refugee should be used to describe people displaced by the hurricane.
Like Colbert's word of 2006, reality television has caused an impact of word searches.
Simon Cowell on American Idol said of Anthony Federov's performance that it was "pleasant, safe, and a little insipid." This moment caused the word insipid to be in the Top 50 for two months.
The Web site of Merriam-Webster has more than 100 million individual page views per month. On average, they respond to approximately 10 lookup requests in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary or Thesaurus per second.
And here I was worried that no one was using a dictionary anymore.
I guess I better enter truthiness into my dictionary, so spell check will accept it.