Merriam-Webster recently declared “culture” as word of the year. The word was among 10 other words in the running for the honor. This particular word had a 15% year-over-year increase in look-ups on the dictionary’s website.
The word of the year
The site’s Peter Sokolowski explained to the Associated Press, “We’re simply using the word culture more frequently.”
Oxford Dictionary announced its choice for the word of the year in November, which was “vape” or “vaping,” both of which are related to smoking e-cigarettes. Last year, Oxford Dictionary chose “selfie,” and the year before that, it was “gif.” Oxford usually picks words based on current trends, while Merriam-Webster usually picks words used in everyday context.
The other nine words featured in this year’s list from Merriam-Webster include “nostalgia,” “insidious,” “legacy,” “feminism,” “je ne sais quoi,” “innovation,” “surreptitious,” “autonomy,” and “morbidity.”
Influence of culture
Sokolowski added, “The word ‘culture”s got a cultural story. We have noticed for years that culture has a cyclical spike every year at around Labor Day. That is to say, back to school time during the month of September, so we’ve been watching this word spike at that time for years. In recent years we’ve seen similar spikes at the end of semesters during finals.”
Heavy traffic throughout the year shows how culture has many different meanings. Sokolowski says when you add the word “culture” to other words, you get different meanings. Celebrity culture describes fascination with movie stars and pop singers, while consumer culture describes the customer-oriented business market. Culture has become the replacement word for society. The word “society” seems to be a little bit elitist, and the word “culture” seems to be a little less intimidating.
Culture really stood out to Sokolowski as a standout reference in the December issue of the New Yorker. It was a reference to the new book How Google Works which offered a description of a software fix that made ads more relevant within the search engine.