Top 10 terms we want spelled out
In a year filled with political wrangling, natural disasters and pop-culture curiosities, Americans turned to Merriam-Webster to help define...
The Associated Press
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — In a year filled with political wrangling, natural disasters and pop-culture curiosities, Americans turned to Merriam-Webster to help define it all.
The most frequently looked-up words and their definitions, according to Merriam-Webster's online site:
1. Integrity: Firm adherence to a code, especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility.
2. Refugee: One that flees; especially a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.
3. Contempt: Willful disobedience to or open disrespect of a court, judge or legislative body.
4. Filibuster: The use of extreme dilatory tactics in an attempt to delay or prevent action, especially in a legislative assembly.
5. Insipid: Lacking in qualities that interest, stimulate or challenge; dull, flat.
6. Tsunami: A great sea wave produced by submarine earth movement or volcanic eruption.
7. Pandemic: Occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
8. Conclave: A private meeting or secret assembly, especially a meeting of Roman Catholic cardinals secluded continuously while choosing a pope.
9. Levee: An embankment for preventing flooding; a continuous dike or ridge (as of earth) for confining the irrigation areas of land to be flooded.
10. Inept: Generally incompetent; bungling.
The Associated Press
Filibuster. Refugee. Tsunami. Each was among the dictionary publisher's 10 most frequently looked-up words among some 7 million users of its online site.
But topping the list is a word some say gives insight into the country's collective concern about its values: Integrity.
The noun, formally defined as a "firm adherence to a code" and "incorruptibility," has always been a popular one on the company's Web site, said Merriam-Webster President John Morse. But this year, about 200,000 sought its definition online.
"The entire list gives us an interesting window that opens up into what people are thinking about in their lives," Morse said.
Ralph Whitehead, a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts, said it may indicate the continuing discussion about U.S. values and morality or perhaps that integrity is becoming scarce so its definition is unfamiliar.
No. 10 on the list is "inept," a word that Morse said was getting a lot of attention in the days after President Bush delivered a prime-time news conference that came to an awkward end when some TV networks cut him off to return to scheduled programs.
Sandwiched in between is a cluster of nouns and an adjective or two obviously plucked from the headlines.
"Tsunami" jumped in popularity after one ravaged countries along the Indian Ocean last December, while "levee" and "refugee" are linked to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Interest in the definition of refugee grew after media organizations were criticized for using it to describe hurricane victims.
But Americans were not just curious or baffled by weighty topics.
After Simon Cowell of the popular television show "American Idol," called one aspiring singer "insipid," Merriam-Webster noticed a spike in lookups for the word.
"This guy hit exactly the right word for the performance and it resonated," Morse said. "People engaged the word, but they asked themselves, 'what does it exactly mean?' "
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