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

Outdoor AED unit in Surrey among the first in B.C.

SaveStation cabinet is alarmed and monitored – and hasn’t been used yet

Trade sends Surrey NHLer Brenden Dillon to Washington

‘We felt it was important for us to add a player of his caliber to our defensive group,’ says Caps GM

Suspect in Surrey forcible confinement arrested in Toronto

Constable Richard Wright, of the Surrey RCMP, said William Daniels-Sey was arrested on Feb. 16

Despite evacuation, coronavirus-quarantined White Rock couple still two weeks from home

Government chartered plane to help cruising Canadians return from Japan

ZYTARUK: Trudeau needs to stop dithering and fix blockade crisis

Trudeau noted Canadians are asking themselves, “What is happening in this country?” He’s got that right

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

Coastal GasLink pipeline investor committed to closing deal despite protests

Developer TC Energy Corp. — formerly TransCanada Corp. — is to remain the operator of the $6.6-billion pipeline

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

What’s in a name? The story of Revelstoke’s Mt. Begbie

It’s likely the iconic peak had several Indigenous peoples’ names before settlers arrived

Budget 2020: B.C. Liberals blast ‘Netflix tax,’ lack of economic plan

ICBC rates still go up, except in election year, Shirley Bond says

Teen snowmobiler from Kelowna found after air force’s overnight search

The teen had been missing since just after 6 p.m. on Monday

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

Nanaimo man wins lotto, plans to buy $16,000 fridge

Curtis Wright a winner in Lotto 6/49 draw

Metro Vancouver wants the region to repurpose, donate, or repair used clothing

Textile mending workshops to be held across the Lower Mainland

Most Read