Racial justice. Obstruction of justice. Social justice. The US Department of Justice. Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle over months.
The word follows “toxic,” picked by Oxford Dictionaries and “misinformation” by Dictonary.com.
“Justice” consistently bubbled into the top 20 or 30 lookups on Merriam-Webster’s Web site, spiking at times due to specific events, but also skating close to the surface for much of the year, Merriam-Webster editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski told reporters ahead of yesterday’s announcement.
While it is 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 ahead of a US Senate vote on the “First Step Act,” a criminal justice reform bill with broad bipartisan support.
Earlier in the year, Kim Kardashian West twice paid a White House visit on US President Donald Trump to discuss prison and sentencing reform.
Sentencing for drug crimes, treatment for opioid addiction, a loosening of cannabis laws, a Tesla probe: Justice is to 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.”
That includes Twitter in a big way.
Often, when Trump tweets about the department, he uses simply “Justice.”
On Aug. 1, when he tweeted his wish for then-US attorney general Jeff Sessions to stop an investigation by special counsel Roger Mueller, searches spiked significantly.
Trump referred to “obstruction of justice,” a separate entry on the Merriam-Webster site, prompting a lookup increase of 900 percent over the same date the year before.
Searches for “justice” throughout this year, when compared with last year, were up 74 percent 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 said. “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” (US senator John McCain died); “respect” (Aretha Franklin died); “excelsior” (Stan Lee’s signature battle cry. He died); “laurel” (Remember laurel vs yanny?); “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” (Trump declared himself a nationalist at an Oct. 22 rally in Texas).
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500