In light of all the bleak news and grim issues that confront us, it’s heartening to learn that “justice” was chosen as the Word of the Year for 2018.
Indeed, the stories that shaped the year – the Mueller investigation, the Kavanaugh hearing, midterm elections, criminal reform, policing, immigration, global strife, NATO and marches for equality – had to do with justice, in all its complex and elusive forms.
Two other top words of 2018 – lodestar and maverick – were fueled by the passing of Senator John McCain.
“The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice,” wrote Merriam-Webster in announcing its Word of the Year choice. “In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant.”
From 2017 to 2018, there was a 74 percent increase in the number of online searches of “justice,” said Merriam-Webster. That made it one of the most-consulted words on the company’s website.
There are many nuances of meaning for “justice,” ranging from the legal to the philosophical. Regardless of the context, it’s clear that the word is on a lot of people’s minds, as CNN reports.
Top Words of 2018
Here are eight other words that topped the Merriam-Webster list:
- Searches spiked 8,000 percent after President Trump announced at a rally in October that he was a nationalist. The dictionary definition: “Loyalty and devotion to a nation,” especially “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.” This is distinguished from “patriotism,” defined as: “Love or devotion to one’s own country,” with no implied attitude of superiority.
- Pansexual. Searches soared in April, when singer Janelle Monáe self-identified with the term. Its meaning: “Of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation.”
- The word appeared in a New York Times anonymous op-ed in September, in reference to Senator John McCain having been a lodestar for honor in public life. It originally meant “a star that leads or guides (especially the North Star)” but has evolved to mean “one that serves as an inspiration, model, or guide.”
- Epiphany. Popularity soared in August on the heels of a video trailer for a new song by the K-Pop group BTS. It means “the sudden perception of the essential nature or meaning of something, or an illuminating realization” and comes from the Greek epiphainein, “to manifest.”
- Feckless. Used to describe government actions or policies deemed ill-conceived and counter-productive, this word’s dictionary meaning is “ineffective” or “worthless.”
- Laurel. Nobody was interested in this word until May, when an online audio clip asked listeners whether they heard “laurel” or “yanny.” The New York Times created a web tool that lets you hear both.
- When Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died in August, people wanted to know the literal meaning of the title of one of her biggest hits. The word has been in the English language since the 14th century and derives from the Latin respectus, which means “the act of looking back.”
- The word now means “an independent person who doesn’t go along with the group,” but 100 years ago it meant “an unbranded range animal or motherless calf.” According to Merriam-Webster, “it comes from the name of Samuel A. Maverick, a 19th century lawyer and politician who, although not a cattle rancher, ended up with some cattle taken as payment for a debt. Since he neglected to brand any identifying marks on the cattle, many of the ‘independent’ animals were taken by other ranchers who branded them as their own.”
What words would you add to the list?