SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) - Everyone seems to want one, but
apparently a lot of Americans aren't sure what exactly a
The word, which shot to prominence amid the financial meltdown,
was looked up so often at Merriam-Webster's online dictionary site
that the publisher says "bailout" was an easy choice for its 2008
Word of the Year.
The rest of the list is not exactly cheerful. It also includes
"trepidation," "precipice" and "turmoil."
"There's something about the national psyche right now that is
looking up words that seem to suggest fear and anxiety," said John
Morse, Merriam-Webster's president and publisher.
Several well-worn terms from the presidential campaign also made
the cut: "maverick," "bipartisan" and, coming in at No. 2,
"vet" - to appraise and evaluate, as in vetting a vice
But none topped "bailout," a seemingly simple word that
suddenly took on $700 billion worth of importance in September -
and prompted hundreds of thousands of online lookups within just a
How big was "bailout," etymologically speaking? While Congress
was considering the enormous financial industry rescue package this
fall, searches for "bailout" eclipsed perennial puzzlers like
"irony" and the bedeviling duo of "affect" and "effect."
So how does Merriam-Webster define "bailout"? As "a rescue
from financial distress." But Morse says those who looked it up
also seemed to want to know whether it had negative nuances or
suggested irresponsibility or blame.
"People seem to have a general understanding of the word
'bailout,' but they seem to want to better understand its
application, any connotations it may have and shades of meaning,"
The publisher usually picks its Word of the Year by considering
the number of lookups and whether certain unusual terms submitted
by online users have slipped into everyday discussion.
That's how the whimsical and technology-driven term "W00t" -
that's spelled with two zeros, used by online game players to
express triumph or happiness - gained the top spot in 2007.
A year earlier, online dictionary users picked "truthiness" as
No. 1 after it was coined by Comedy Central political satirist
But this year, Merriam-Webster switched its procedure to
consider only the volume of lookups of particular words, noting
that "bailout" and others were looked up so frequently that their
importance could not be ignored.
Interest in "vet" spiked in June as presidential candidate
Barack Obama spoke about the team he had assembled to "vet"
possible running mates.
"Socialism" and "rogue" also had many hits - the former as
people debated whether economic help to businesses was tantamount
to socialism, and the latter as pundits questioned whether
Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin hurt John
McCain's presidential bid by "going rogue," or defying his
And "misogyny," defined as hatred of women, was looked up in
huge numbers on the online dictionary as Hillary Clinton's
supporters questioned whether it had derailed her presidential
Allan Metcalf, executive secretary of the American Dialect
Society - which picked "subprime" as its 2007 word of the year -
said he thinks "bailout" was a good choice by Merriam-Webster.
It may even be in the running for the American Dialect Society's
2008 word when it is selected in January, Metcalf said.
"If we were to sift through the words of the past year and pick
the most significant, the ones that characterized the year, the
ones that remind us what we were thinking about and talking about,
then I'd say 'bailout' is a good choice," he said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)