In this Dec. 12, 2018, photo, “justice” is displayed in a Merriam-Webster dictionary in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Top of mind: ‘Justice’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle and President Trump’s Twitter feed.

Racial justice. Obstruction of justice. Social justice. The Justice Department. Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle over months and months.

The word follows “toxic,” picked by Oxford Dictionaries, and “misinformation,” plucked by Dictonary.com.

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, told The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s announcement that “justice” consistently bubbled into the top 20 or 30 lookups on the company’s website, spiking at times due to specific events but also skating close to the surface for much of the year.

While it’s one of those common words people likely know how to spell and use correctly in a sentence, Sokolowski pointed to other reasons that drive search traffic. Among them is an attempt to focus a train of thought around a philosophical problem, or to seek aspirational motivation. Such well-known words are often among the most looked up every year, including those that are slightly abstract, including “love,” he said.

The designation for “justice” came soon after President Trump’s one-time fixer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss’ alleged sexual affairs. He told a judge he agreed time and again to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds” out of “blind loyalty.”

It also came ahead of a Senate vote on the “First Step Act,” a criminal justice reform bill with broad bipartisan support. Earlier in the year, Kim Kardashian West not once but twice paid a White House visit on Trump to discuss prison and sentencing reform. Sentencing for drug crimes, treatment for opioid addiction, a loosening of cannabis laws, a Tesla probe, the Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign: Justice will remain top of mind into the new year.

“These are stories that connect to the culture and to society across races, across classes,” Sokolowski said. “We get this word that filters in.”

Read more: 2017 word of the year: Feminism

Read more: Yowza! Twerk, emoji and facepalm are added to Scrabble dictionary, OK?

That includes Twitter in a big way.

Often, when Trump tweets about the Department of Justice, he uses simply “Justice.” On Aug. 1, when he tweeted his wish for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the Mueller investigation, searches spiked significantly. Trump referred to “obstruction of justice,” a separate entry on the Merriam-Webster site, prompting a lookup increase of 900 per cent over the same date the year before.

Searches for “justice” throughout the year, when compared to 2017, were up 74 per cent on the site that has more than 100 million page views a month and nearly half a million entries, Sokolowski said. To be word of the year worthy, an entry has to show both a high volume of traffic and a significant year-over-year increase in lookups — as opposed to, say, a word that merely buzzed or felt lofty, he said.

“We are not editorializing. We looked at our data and we were ourselves surprised by this word,” Sokolowski said. “This is a word that people have been thinking about for this entire year.”

The word “justice” comes from Latin, unlike a lot of the more emotional words that rose in Old English. Old English did have “law,” ”fair” and “right,” but never “justice,” in reference to a system of laws.

“It’s not a coincidence that it comes from the 12th century, which immediately follows the Norman conquest. When the Normans invaded England they brought their language, Old French, which was basically the then-modern version of Latin. They brought their system of government and laws and imposed them on the people they conquered, and that’s why all of the legal language in English today is Latin, just like the word justice,” Sokolowski explained. “It took the imposition of a system of laws to bring us the word justice.”

One rule breaker: “witness,” a word with a purely Old English start.

Other words that experienced lookup spikes this year: “maverick” (Sen. John McCain died); “respect” (Aretha Franklin died); “excelsior” (Stan Lee’s signature battle cry. He died); “pissant” (A radio host described Tom Brady’s daughter that way); “pansexual” (Janelle Monae described herself that way); “laurel” (Remember laurel vs. yanny?); “feckless” (What Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump, combined with a pejorative that begins with “c”); “epiphany” (The title of a BTS K-pop song that dropped this year); “lodestar” (used in reference to McCain in the anonymous New York Times op-ed identified as coming from inside the Trump administration); and “nationalism” (At an Oct. 22 rally in Texas, Trump declared himself a nationalist).

Leanne Italie, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Money available to curtail nutrient pollution of Shuswap watershed

Excessive phosphorous could make algae blooms and other unpleasant conditions more common

Eight times a charm: Larch Hills skiers win team trophy at Teck BC event

Shuswap contingent wins Midget Championships honour eighth year in a row

Salmon Arm boy is only Para-Nordic athlete at BC Winter games

Thirteen-year-old Kaden Baum competed in three races on his sit-ski at the games.

Home loss ends season for Sicamous Eagles

A defeat at the hands of the 100 Mile House Wranglers on Feb. 22 was the Eagles’ last outing.

PHOTOS: PeeWee Silverbacks finish season with 22 game win streak

The team has gone undefeated since November last year

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

Salmon Arm boy is only Para-Nordic athlete at BC Winter games

Thirteen-year-old Kaden Baum competed in three races on his sit-ski at the games.

B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Summerland facility latest to have administrator appointed

RCMP pull office from Wet’suwet’en territory, but hereditary chiefs still want patrols to end

Chief says temporary closure of field office not enough as Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute drags on

Swinging with the Stars raises $314,500 for Central Okanagan Hospice Association

The 12th annual event took place at the Delta Hotel in Downtown Kelowna

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Kelowna man arrested and released for threatening to stab people with a syringe

The incident is said to have occured downtown Kelowna on Friday

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

North Okanagan ultra athlete ‘hearts’ ice baths

Shanda Hill and father carve stunning creations into ice at Ellison Lake

Most Read