'Pragmatic' chosen as Merriam-Webster's 'Word of the Year'
A pencil points out "Pragmatic", Merriam-Webster's annual word of the year in Boston, Wednesday Dec. 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Published Thursday, December 15, 2011 7:55AM EST
When the time came for Merriam-Webster to pick its top word of 2011, its editors decided they needed to be pragmatic.
So they chose ... pragmatic.
The word, an adjective that means practical and logical, was looked up so often on Merriam-Webster's online dictionary that the publisher says "pragmatic" was the pragmatic choice for its 2011 Word of the Year.
"Pragmatic" may have sparked dictionary users' interest both because they'd heard it in conversations, and because it captures the current American mood of encouraging practicality over frivolity, said John Morse, president and publisher of the Massachusetts-based Merriam-Webster.
Merriam-Webster has been picking its annual top choice since 2003. Previous winners include: austerity (2010), admonish (2009) and bailout (2008).
"'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," Morse said.
A new feature on Merriam-Webster's site allows users to tell the dictionary publisher why they sought that specific word, and the feedback from those who looked up "pragmatic" was that they wanted to reaffirm that the connotation was positive.
"Austerity" made the top 10 list in 2011 along with ambivalence, insidious, didactic, diversity, capitalism, socialism and vitriol.
Morse and Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor at large, said they would not have been surprised if some people had expected "occupy" to be the 2011 Word of the Year because of the interest raised by Occupy Wall Street protests against economic inequality.
Though it was used a lot in conversation, "occupy" did not prompt an unusual number of searches.
"Occupy" still has a chance to grab a spot in the linguistic limelight, though, because it's being considered among the front-runners for the American Dialect Society's 2011 Word of the Year.
That group's annual choice isn't driven by dictionary lookups, but is a word or phrase that members consider widely used, demonstrably new or popular and reflects the year's popular discourse.
The society announce its selection Jan. 6. The group's executive secretary, Allan Metcalf, says "occupy" is getting a lot of buzz.
The London-based Oxford English Dictionary, also named its 2011 word choice in November: "squeezed middle," a primarily term credited to British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband to describe the financial pinch felt by the middle class in Great Britain.