‘Complicit’ chosen as word of the year by dictionary.com

The lookups of the word increased nearly 300 percent over last year. Picture: Dictionary.com via AP
The lookups of the word increased nearly 300 percent over last year. Picture: Dictionary.com via AP
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Russian election influence, the sexual harassment scandal, mass shootings and the opioid epidemic have helped elevate “complicit” as Dictionary.com’s word of the year.

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Look-ups of the word increased nearly 300% over last year as “complicit” hit just about every hot button topic from politics to natural disasters, lexicographer Jane Solomon said.

“This year a conversation that keeps on surfacing is what exactly it means to be complicit,” she said. “Complicit has sprung up in conversations about those who speak out against powerful figures in institutions, and those who stay silent.”

The first of three major spikes for the word struck on March 12, the day after Saturday Night Live aired a sketch starring Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka Trump in a glittery gold dress selling a fragrance called Complicit because: “She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s complicit.”

The bump was followed by another on April 5, also related to Ms Trump, the day after she appeared on CBS This Morning and told Gayle King, among other things: “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”

It was unclear whether she was deflecting or whether the graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business - with a degree in economics - really did not know.

Another major spike occurred on October 24, the day Arizona Republican Jeff Flake announced from the Senate floor that he would not seek re-election, harshly criticising President Donald Trump and urging other members of the party not to stand silently with the president.

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“I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr President, I will not be complicit,” Mr Flake said.

Ms Solomon said several other major events contributed to interest in the word. They include the rise of the opioid epidemic and how it came to pass, along with the spread of sexual harassment and assault allegations against an ever-growing list of powerful men, including film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The scandal that started in Hollywood and quickly spread across industries has led to a mountain of questions over who knew what, who might have contributed and what it means to stay silent.

Dictionary.com chooses its word of the year by scouring look-ups by day, month and year to date and how they correspond to noteworthy events, Ms Solomon said.

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This year, a lot of high-volume trends corresponded to politics, but other lower-volume trends included:

:: INTERSEX: It trended on Dictionary.com in January thanks to model Hanne Gaby Odiele speaking up about being intersex to break taboos. As a noun it means “an individual having reproductive organs or external sexual characteristics of both male and female”. Dictionary.com traces its origins back to 1915, as the back formation of “intersexual”.

:: SHRINKAGE: While the word has been around since 1790, a specific definition tied to a famous 1994 episode of Seinfeld led to a word look-up revival in February, when a house in The Hamptons, where the episode was filmed, went on the market. For the record, the Jason Alexander character George Costanza emerges with “shrinkage” from a pool and said “shrinkage” is noted by Jerry’s girlfriend.

:: TARNATION: It had a good ride on Dictionary.com in the first few months of the year due to a round of social media fun with the “What in tarnation” meme that had animals and various objects wearing cowboy hats.

:: HOROLOGIST: As in master clockmaker, like the one featured in the podcast S-Town, the highly anticipated This American Life follow-up to the popular Serial podcast. All seven episodes of intrigue were released at once in March. Horologist, used in the radio story, trended around that time.

:: TOTALITY: There were look-up spikes in August, thanks to the solar eclipse and its narrow band of totality, meaning the strip of land where the sun was completely obscured by the moon.

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