Nothing scientific here, but the president of Merriam-Webster announced "austerity" as the Word of the Year for 2010 with more than 250,000 online searches for its meaning.
Other words drawing large search numbers were pragmatic, moratorium, socialism, bigot and voluptuous. The unlisted author of this report in a popular communications newsletter noted: "The frequency of searches for these words highlights not only what caught readers’ attention but also their limited vocabulary."
Directly from the newsletter are the top five most frequently searched words over time (I’m sharing this directly to provide the authors’ witty comments in parentheses):
- Pretentious (extremely appropos in an age of Facebook fiction)
- Ubiquitious (a favorite in high school vocabulary lists)
- Love (no one understands that from reading a definition)
- Cynical (the way I’m feeling about American education right now)
- Apathetic (the way most people feel about developing a decent vocabulary)
It’s some comfort that thousands of definition-deficient people bothered to look the words up.