"Pragmatic" Chosen as Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

Highly nominated "occupy" still in the running for American Dialect Society

By Andy Salsman and Olsen Ebright
|  Friday, Dec 16, 2011  |  Updated 1:42 PM PDT
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"Pragmatic" Chosen as Word of the Year

Want to look smart to your friends, family and coworkers? Try slipping the word "pragmatic" into your conversations. The polysyllabic adjective is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2011.

The company had many great choices when it came to the year's top word. "Occupy" has been popular among lexicographers and protesters alike. In the end, though, Merriam-Webster decided to be -- well -- pragmatic in its choice.

"'Pragmatic' is a word that describes a kind of quality that people value in themselves but also look for in others, and look for in policymakers and the activities of people around them," John Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster, said.

"Pragmatic" means practical and logical; it's been used quite often this year when talking about politics or the economy.

There is still hope for glory for "occupy" and other hot words; the American Dialect Society has yet to announce its Word of the Year.

While Merriam-Webster's winner is based on search volume, the ADS has a bit more "whimsical" process, said ADS officer Grant Barrett.

"It's a very light-hearted vote," said Barrett. "We do a lot of goofing off, and sometimes we get it right."

Past ADS winners -- which tend to be a bit more rambunctious than MW -- include "tweet," "plutoed" and "truthiness."

The American Dialect Society will pick its winner next month during a convention in Portland, Ore.

"By far and away, the word 'occupy' is the one most-nominated and most-suggested as the best candidate for Word of the Year," said Barrett.

"Regard of what your politics are, it's productive. People have twisted it and turned it and taken away from it and added to it... and that's usually a sign of something being successful," said Barrett, who co-hosts a national public radio show about language, "A Way With Words."

Internet memes such as "Tebowing," "like a boss" and "planking" have a chance, said Barrett, who credits the website Reddit as a great source of newly minted words.

Plus, there's always Hollywood.

"...the Charlie sheen stuff that happened this year, that was a big deal at the time -- so maybe 'winning' has a chance," said Barrett.

MW Word of the Year Archive:

  • 2011: pragmatic
  • 2010: austerity
  • 2009: Admonish
  • 2008: Bailout
  • 2007: w00t
  • 2006: Truthiness
  • 2005: Integrity
  • 2004: Blog
  • 2003: Democracy

ADS Word of the Year Archive:

  • 2010: app
  • 2009: tweet
  • 2008: bailout
  • 2007: subprime
  • 2006: to be plutoed
  • 2005: truthiness
  • 2004: red/blue/purple states
  • 2003: metrosexual
  • 2002: weapons of mass destruction or WMD
  • 2001: 9-11, 9/11 or September 11
  • 2000: chad
  • 1999: Y2K
  • 1998: prefix e- for "electronic" as in email
  • 1997: millennium bug
  • 1996: mom as in soccer mom
  • 1995: (tie) World Wide Web, newt
  • 1994: (tie) cyber, morph
  • 1993: information superhighway
  • 1992: Not!
  • 1991: mother of all
  • 1990: bushlips


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