Special Report

Every 'Word of the Year' Since 2003

In the beginning was the word…. We think and express ourselves in words, read them and write them. Most of the words we use are ordinary, everyday words, such as “yes,” “no,” “please,” and “thanks.” However, every year some words take on particular significance because of changes in our lives and in our world – and because of changes in the meanings of the words themselves. (These are 50 words people get wrong all the time.)

24/7 Tempo has consulted Merriam-Webster’s annual “Word of the Year” rankings to compile a list of every word so designated since 2003, the first year the dictionary publisher began keeping a tally. Merriam-Webster originally chose the words by tracking page hits and searches on its website, but since 2006 has drawn on the results of an online poll and user suggestions (Identification of each word’s part of speech and primary definition in our list are also drawn from Merriam-Webster.)

The top word each year (10 runners-up are also named annually) often seems to sum up the year itself. For example, the 2020 Word of the Year was “pandemic,” something that was on everybody’s mind every day. The winning word so far this year is “vaccine.” That’s a lot more hopeful than “pandemic,” though we’re still far from saying goodbye to COVID-19. (Here are 30 words that didn’t exist 30 years ago.)

Click here to see every Merriam-Webster Word of the Year since 2003

 “Bailout” was the Word of the Year in 2008, when we were experiencing the global financial crisis. “Admonish” and “austerity” were singled out in 2009 and 2010, respectively, when we were coming to terms with the causes and consequences of the crisis. It might seem paradoxical – or logical – that “socialism” and “capitalism” were tied for No. 1 in 2012. 

It should be stressed that the Word of the Year can reflect our hopes as well as our fears, and our ideals. Thus the words of the year for 2003, 2005, and 2018, respectively, were “democracy,” “integrity,” and “justice.”