‘Pragmatic’ named 2011 Word of the Year

Word received ‘unprecedented’ number of searches: Merriam-Webster


Photo courtesy of Kate Ter Haar on Flickr

English majors, take note: Merriam-Webster has chosen pragmatic as its top word of 2011.

On Dec. 15, the American dictionary publisher announced its annual top-10 list, determined by the volume of searches on their online dictionary. Pragmatic, an adjective that means “practical as opposed to idealistic,” received an “unprecedented” number of searches throughout the year.

Merriam-Webster says search trends are often influenced by economic and political conditions. In 2011, the words ambivalence, insidious, didactic, austerity, diversity, socialism, vitriol and “après moi le déluge” topped the list—influenced in some part, no doubt, by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

What do you think, Canadian wordsmiths? Should pragmatic be the top word of 2011?


‘Pragmatic’ named 2011 Word of the Year

  1. Academics will make their own adjustments, will internalise the priorities of the funding councils, and adopt them as their own. Soon they will become adept at second or even third-guessing them. Such pragmatism probably doesn’t make for very good research. But that pragmatism is likely to be strengthened as the nature of research itself is redefined. London Review of Books.

    The http://www.m-w.com entry on “pragmatic” (and those on associated words) is not quite right.

    I will say that the oral pronunciations on the site are excellent. When reading the introduction to the Cambridge “Macbeth” (UCLA), we consult the m-w on iPhone, words in which can be found by oral prompts.

    It seems strange to me that university teachers would be concerned about “the thesis statement” and minutiae of citation when students can’t choose, introduce, and comment on evidence in the first place.

    The goal is to produce language sensitivity. Someone doing a lot of reading will be aware of the unsavory underside of “pragmatic.” It has not been precisely captured in m-w.

    Another valuable skill involves learning how to write your own entry, for “pragmatic” or for the “impossible” in literature.

    If we continue to think in mild, bureaucratic ways, the future will shrink into a crumpled shred of paper.

  2. I suspect that over the next ten years, “pragmatic” will lose more of its luster, and “uncompromising” (the perfect ‘positive’ adjective to describe Hitchens) will similarly be transformed to combat the sleazier imputations of “pragmatic:”

    http://www.m-w.com Definition of UNCOMPROMISING: not making or accepting a compromise: making no concessions: inflexible, unyielding.

    They were uncompromising in their demands.
    First Known Use: 1800.

    m-w: PRAGMATIC: Synonyms: down-to-earth, earthy, hardheaded, matter-of-fact, practical, realistic (also pragmatical).

    Antonyms: blue-sky, idealistic, impractical, unrealistic, utopian, visionary.

    We do not have “uncompromising” as as antonym here. Not only is the m-w definition of “pragmatic” out of focus, but the synonyms and antonyms are even more limiting. Adjectives can be subtle and fluid in their changes of meaning.

    A monitor corpus should have reflected the profiles of “pragmatic” and “uncompromising” for m-w better than turned out to be the case.