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

Romeros hosting house concert with David Francey next Tuesday

The musicians are in the midst of preparing a brand new album and going on tour

CRD librarian reflects on most-read titles in 2019

Graphic novels were especially popular in Williams Lake this year

B.C. premier talks forestry, service needs with handful of northern mayors in Prince George

Prince George meeting completes premier’s tour of Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. James and Quesnel

B.C. Premier calls Quesnel a ‘hub of innovation’ in face of forestry downturn

Premier John Horgan tours Forestry Innovation Centre and meets with mayor, community representatives

Ulkatcho, Lhoosk’uz Dené sign agreements in support of Blackwater Mine project

Agreements commit to share portion of provincial mineral tax revenue collected from planned mine

VIDEO: Nickelback gears up for nostalgia tour

Canadian band joins Stone Temple Pilots for a summer tour that includes just one stop in Canada

Province asks health-care staff to be ‘vigilant’ in screening for possible coronavirus cases

This comes after U.S. health officials confirmed a case of the virus in Washington State

Boy, 13, arrested after alleged assault involving girl at B.C. middle school

Boy alleged to have used ‘inappropriate levels of force’ to injure the girl

B.C. player becomes only second Canadian to enter Hall of Fame of Baseball

Walker received 76.6 percent of the Baseball Writers of America Association vote

PHOTOS: Heavy snowfall breaks window, causing avalanche into B.C. newsroom office

It was a chaotic start to the week for the Kitimat Northern Sentinel

Canadian law firm launches class action on behalf of Iran flight victims

Flight 752 was shot down by Iran shortly after take off

Mission Hill cellarman fired after mistakenly dumping $162K of wine down the drain

The former employee filed a grievance with the West Kelowna winery but was unsuccesful

Protesters block B.C. government building entrance to support Wet’suwet’en First Nation

A letter with four demands was delivered to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources

Most Read