Friday, December 3, 2004

'Blog' Tops Dictionary's Words of the Year

The word "blog" is the most-requested definition by users of Merriam-Webster's online dictionary.

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, defines a blog as "a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."

Eight entries on the publisher's top-10 list related to major news events, from the presidential election -- represented by words such as incumbent and partisan -- to natural phenomena such as hurricane and cicada.

Springfield, Massachusetts-based Merriam-Webster compiles the list each year by taking the most researched words on its websites and then excluding perennials such as affect/effect and profanity.

The company said most online dictionary queries were for uncommon terms, but people also turned to its Web sites for words in news headlines.

Americans called up blogs in droves for information and laughs ahead of the Nov. 2 presidential election. Freed from the constraints that govern traditional print and broadcast news organizations, blogs spread gossip while also serving as an outlet for people increasingly disenchanted with mainstream media.

It was mainly on blogs that readers first encountered speculation that President Bush wore a listening device during his first debate against Democrat John Kerry. The White House, forced to respond, called it a laughable, left-wing conspiracy theory.

Bloggers also were among the first to cast doubt on a CBS television news report that challenged Bush's military service. CBS later admitted it had been duped into using questionable documents for the report. Last week CBS anchor Dan Rather said he would step down in March, although the network said the move was unconnected to the scandal.


"While most of our online dictionary lookups are for slightly difficult but still generic non-specialized vocabulary, it does sometimes happen that words in the headlines so grab people's attention that they become a most frequently looked-up word," John M. Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster, says in a statement.

"That is what occurred in this year's election cycle, with voluminous hits for words like 'incumbent,' 'electoral,' 'partisan,' and, of course, our number one word of the year, 'blog.'" Initially, people were requesting a definition for blog, and the word was not even officially in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the company admitted.

"Most of the words in the top 10 list that people look up are in our dictionary," Arthur Bicknell, senior publicist at Merriam-Webster, told NewsFactor. "But 'blog' was not in the dictionary, as it was scheduled to be included in the 2005 annual updates of Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary due out early next year. So our lexicographers placed a definition of 'blog' on our Web site."

A Merriam-Webster spokesman said it was not possible to say how many times blog had been looked up on its Web sites but that from July onward, the word received tens of thousands of hits per month.

The complete list of words of the year is available at

(Compiled from Reuters and despatches)

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