Merriam-Webster has chosen "culture" as its 2014 word of the year, joining the words "vape" and "exposure" which were chosen by Oxford Dictionaries and Dictionary.com, respectively.
Merriam-Webster based its decision on the top ten words and the eventual winner through the increases in searches for the year compared to last year.
The runner-up word for the year is "nostalgia," followed by "insidious," "legacy," "feminism," and "je ne sais quoi," which is a multi-word French phrase that appears in whole in the dictionary.
The rest of the words that make up the top ten are "innovation," "surreptitious," "autonomy," and "morbidity."
For the yearly tradition, the dictionary company filters out words that are considered perennial favorites. Could this mean that the word of the year only honors language fads?
"We're simply using the word culture more frequently," said Merriam-Webster editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski. "It may be a fad. It may not. It may simply be evolution."
According to Sokolowski, looking up the words does not necessarily mean that people are searching for their meanings. Searching for the word could mean that users are seeking inspiration from the word.
The word "culture" may have inspired a lot, boasting a 15 percent increase in lookups over the 100 million annual searches each on the company's website and app. While the percentage does not look like a high one, it becomes very significant when you factor in the massive number of searches that go through Merriam-Webster per year.
Search traffic for 2014 on "culture" has Sokolowski calling the word as a "chameleon," given its nature to mean different things when connected with different words. Examples of "culture" showing this trait include the phrases "culture of transparency" for business and politics, "culture of winning" for sports and "consumer culture" for marketing.
Sokolowski added that he observed the decline of people using the word "society," and that "culture" is replacing the use of the word, explaining that "society" sounds elitist.
The word "nostalgia" claimed the second post primarily due to this year being the 50th year anniversary for several historic events, such as the free speech movement's beginning, the Civil Rights Act's passage, the Ford Mustang's birth and the Beatles' first arrival in the United States.
As for the reason why a French phrase was able to enter the top ten words, the explanation is far simpler. The phrase was involved in an advertisement for Sonic, a fastfood chain, wherein the words were played upon. Since the advertisement's release in September, the "je ne sais quoi" has been one of the top searches for Merriam-Webster every single day.