I love how The New York Times embraces the web with their online version of the paper. Apparently, they have a function on their site where if you double-click on any word, a little question mark pops up. Click on this and you get a definition of the word from American Heritage dictionary. They’ve recently compiled the top 50 terms that were looked up, along with some interesting tidbits on how many articles and op-ed pieces the word appeared in, and how many times the word is looked up per use. They’re own interpretation of the results are on their blog.
All around, it’s fascinating stuff, more than just a good excuse to expand the vocabulary. As their blog post points out, a good number of the words are foreign, and the word with the most lookups per use–baldenfreude–was made up. Does this mean that the AHD will be forced to add this word if folks keep using it? Or does it just show that made up words need to do a good job of letting readers know their invetisimos?
Looking through the list is a reflection of the times. Profligacy and profligate made the top five. I had to look it up too, but yup sounds like bankers to me. Overhaul is the most used unknown word with 605 references, no big surprise there, except maybe that it’s on the list. We must all know what it means by now. Austerity places fourth, definitely one of those words not heard much a year ago, but encountered on just about a daily basis now. But what about obduracy? Is that some remnant from the Bush era? Ubiquitous comes in second for most used unknown word, with 168 references. Does that mean that the word itself is now ubiquitous? Soporific, one of my favorite arcane words, was only used twice. My hunch is it was probably in reference to a book by one of them literary types.
Here’s a wordle of the whole caboodle: