Americans scrambled to define the word ‘justice’ enough in 2018 — a year filled with special counsel indictments and a Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault — for Merriam-Webster’s to deem it Word of the Year.
The dictionary service announced its Word of the Year selection on Monday, citing a 74 percent spike in searches compared to 2017. Merriam-Webster compared the surges to news events and it’s not hard to see why the country needed to define the ‘justice’ in 2018.
“‘Justice’ might seem like too common a word to warrant frequent dictionary consultation, but it’s often familiar words for abstract concepts (like ‘integrity’, ‘pragmatic,’ and ‘democracy’) that are among the most looked up words,” Merriam Webster wrote. “We’ve seen over the years that when common words are used in contexts that are very specific, technical, or legal, people look them up in the dictionary for the detail and nuance that a definition can provide.”
Ongoing stories like special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments and negotiations of pleas plus the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh are the most recognizable. But some specific instances, like President Donald Trump’s tweet in August urging then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the Mueller investigation, spurred an immediate need to look up ‘obstruction of justice.’
Other events that contributed to an increase in lookups are related to the Department of Justice itself, such as: launching an investigation into Tesla, support for a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, proposed ban on bump stocks, and a return to cracking down on cannabis. Political candidates running on criminal justice reform further injected ‘justice’ into the conversation.
The August deportation of a 95-year-old Nazi prison guard back to Germany and Madonna’s response to backlash from her Aretha Franklin recollections she “could never do her justice” also corresponded to a spark in curiosity for the word.
What could 2019 bring to keep ‘justice’ as Word of the Year for another year?