Merriam-Webster Announces 2004 Words of the Year

Posted on December 10, 2004

Merriam-Webster Inc. has announced its top ten words and definitions as culled from its website. The 2004 Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year list is based on users' anonymous hits to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and Online Thesaurus as well as lookups on Merriam-Webster, a premium website that offers online access to the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

The number one word of the year, receiving the largest number of user-requests by a wide margin, is "blog," defined in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition as: "a website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer." Eight of the top ten words relate to breaking news stories from the past year, ranging from the 2004 presidential election ("electoral," #3) to natural phenomena ("cicada," #6). Topping off the list is "defenestration," the winning entry in Merriam-Webster's "What's Your Favorite Word?" online survey held earlier this year.

2004 Words of the Year

  1. blog: noun [short for Weblog] (1999) : a website that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer
  2. incumbent
  3. electoral
  4. insurgent
  5. hurricane
  6. cicada
  7. peloton : noun (1951) : the main body of riders in a bicycle race
  8. partisan
  9. sovereignty
  10. defenestration
"While most of our online dictionary lookups are for slightly difficult but still generic nonspecialized vocabulary," said John M. Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster, "it does sometimes happen that words in the headlines so grab people's attention that they become a most frequently looked-up word. That is what occurred in this year's election cycle (to a level not seen since the days of 'chad' in 2000) with voluminous hits for words like 'incumbent,' 'electoral,' 'partisan,' and, of course, our number one Word of the Year, 'blog.'"

"By tracking the words people are looking up on Merriam-Webster OnLine, and by paying careful attention to the thousands of emails we receive each year from visitors to our sites," said Morse, "we are developing a better idea of what people want from reference sources. Online customer response can help lead our editorial staff to make adjustments in revisions of print dictionaries."

Traffic to Merriam-Webster OnLine now exceeds 100 million individual page views per month. On average, the company responds to approximately ten lookup requests in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary or Thesaurus per second. During peak hours, this may increase to more than 100 requests per second.

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