Why 'justice' prevailed in 2018, according to Merriam-Webster

Merriam-Webster said "justice" is its 2018 Word of the Year after seeing a 74% spike in searches.

Posted: Dec 17, 2018 1:49 PM


Robert Mueller's investigation of US President Donald Trump; Brett Kavanaugh's tense hearings in Congress; the fight for social, racial and gender equality: the past year has seen an absorbing and tumultuous news cycle.

And now, "justice" -- the crux of some of the most gripping stories of the past 12 months -- has been recognized for its central place in the public consciousness.

US publishing company Merriam-Webster has named the noun its Word of the Year for 2018, after it saw a 74% spike in look-ups compared with 2017.

"The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice," the company said when explaining its choice.

"In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion," it said.

"Justice" was among the most-consulted words on Merriam-Webster's website throughout the year, the company said, and saw jumps in search volume in the wake of numerous news stories.

The move follows Oxford Dictionaries' decision to crown "toxic" its word of the year, and Dictionary.com's selection of "misinformation" as its winner.

It comes days after Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, and in a week when sweeping criminal justice reforms look set to dominate the US Senate's agenda.

Nationalism, pansexual and Laurel also shone in 2018

"Justice" takes the Word of the Year title from last year's winner, "feminism."

In addition to its top pick, the company also shone a spotlight on 10 words that saw jumps in interest in 2018.

"Nationalism" saw an 8,000% spike in look-ups in late October after Trump controversially described himself as a nationalist at a rally in Houston.

"Pansexual" attracted attention after singer Janelle Monáe self-identified with the term in an interview in Rolling Stone in April, while "lodestar" saw an increase when the rarely used noun convinced some commentators that Vice President Mike Pence was the anonymous writer of an explosive New York Times opinion piece.

Other words that saw large jumps in look-ups included "Laurel," which was at the heart of a viral debate over a short piece of audio in May, and "respect," which spiked in searches after the death of the "Queen of Soul," Aretha Franklin, in August.

It's not unusual for a political term to grab the top spot, though -- "socialism," "austerity" and "bailout" have all been crowned by the company in the past decade.

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