Posted by: Jack Henry | December 24, 2018

Editor’s Corner: 2018 Word of the Year

It’s that time of the year when most dictionaries publish the most “looked up” word or words of the year. As you will see from this look at Merriam-Webster’s list, people are curious about day-to-day events in our country and words they read or hear in the news. This is just a partial list, but the full list is here, from Daily Writing Tips.

Happy holidays! I hope you enjoy your day off tomorrow!

The Word of the Year, justice, was newsworthy in several contexts. The primary sense is that of administration or maintenance of fairness and lawfulness, and increasing concern about social justice has brought the concept, and the term that represents it, to the forefront in our society. But justice is a job title as well as a concept, referring to a judge on a national or state supreme court or similar body, and the controversy over confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as an associate justice of the US Supreme Court also led people to check the definition. (The senior member of a supreme court is often titled “chief justice,” while the others are designated “associate justices.”)

Lodestar, originally denoting Polaris, the North Pole Star, which for millennia has served as a navigational aid, now refers more broadly to a guide, inspiration, or model. (Lode is a Middle English word meaning “course” or “way”; it’s seen also in the context of mining: A lode is a deposit of ore.) The term had a vogue this year after it was used in an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times purportedly written by a senior Trump administration official. Because Vice President Mike Pence is known to use the fairly obscure term, some people suspected him of being the author.

Laurel, the word for a tree whose foliage was used to crown victors in athletic events in ancient Greece, became a hot search term when a debate erupted online about which of two words was being enunciated in an online dictionary’s pronunciation sound file. By extension of its original definition, the term came to apply to the celebratory object itself and to figurative honors; one idiom based on the term is “rest on (one’s) laurels,” which alludes to someone who, upon achieving an honor, refrains from attempting feats that bring further recognition. (Usage generally pertains to one who does not rest on one’s laurels, meaning that person does seek other honors.)

The death this year of Aretha Franklin, best known for her rousing rendition of the song “Respect,” prompted look-ups of that word, which literally means “look back.” (The second syllable of that word, meaning “look,” is also the root of spectacle, spectator, inspect, suspect, and so on.)

The death of Marvel Comics mogul Stan Lee this year resulted in references to excelsior, the word with which Lee typically signed off in the columns he wrote for his company’s comic books. Though the primary meaning of the word is mundane—it was a trademark for a brand of wood shavings used as protective packing material and later a generic term—its origin is the Latin word meaning “higher”; excel, excellent, and so on are related.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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