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Dictionary.com’s 2021 Word Of The Year Is …

Do you remember last year’s WOTY?

I know some if you guys aren’t into my obsession with words, but I don’t think I’ve missed a WOTY post since I started. That being said, dictionary.com is one of my favorite dictionary sites. Oooo… I wonder if I could get a sponsorship?! Probably not when the next post will most likely contain 42 f-bombs, a couple c-words, and something obscene and objectable! Sigh. You can be smart and still be a weirdo or pervert. Visit their site next time you look something up, or after you read this!

2021 was a year defined by the many ongoing impacts of the pandemic and the polarization of 2020—and the various ways we continue to grapple with them.

The vastness of such a year could never be fully summarized with a single word. But there is one word that’s intertwined with so many of the things we’ve experienced in 2021: allyship, our 2021 Word of the Year.

allyship (noun): the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.

dictionary.com

As our Word of the Year for 2021, allyship carries a special distinction this year: It marks the first time we’ve chosen a word that’s new to our dictionary as our Word of the Year. Our addition of the word allyship to our dictionary in 2021—not to mention our decision to elevate it as our top word for the year—captures important ways the word continues to evolve in our language and reflects its increased prominence in our discourse. Allyship acts as a powerful prism through which to view the defining events and experiences of 2021—and, crucially, how the public processed them.

It also serves as a compelling throughline for much of our lexicographical, editorial, and educational work across Dictionary.com and Eeeeeee3 the noun ally, “a person who advocates for or supports a marginalized or politicized group but is not a member of the group,” and –ship, a noun-forming suffix here denoting “status, condition.” This specific sense of the word ally is, notably, one we also updated this year.

Developing out of the word’s general meaning of “supporter,” the application of ally in contexts of social justice is first evidenced as early as the 1940s in an article by Albert W. Hamilton on “allies on the front of racial justice” for Black people. The article, notably, features the term white allies, which has proliferated ever since. Another now-common term, straight allies—non-LGBTQ+ supporters of the LGBTQ+ community—dates back to at least the 1970s.

📚 Did you know? While the word allyship dates back to the mid-1800s, the word ally itself is much older in the English language. It’s first recorded around 1250–1300, ultimately coming into French from the Latin alligāre, “to bind together, combine, unite,” which is in turn based on ligāre, “to bind.” This Latin verb is the source of many other English words, including alloy, league, ligament, obligation, religion, and rely.

While newly added to our dictionary this year, allyship is, of course, not a new word in the English language. It’s first attested around 1850 in a broader sense of “the relationship or status of persons, groups, or nations associating and cooperating with one another for a common cause.” Its primary meaning today—when a person who is not a member of a marginalized group works for its inclusion in society—spread in the 1990s.

But use of the word allyship skyrocketed in the past 15 years. In fact, since 2011, frequency of the word, according to our data analyses from various corpora (big, searchable collections of texts), has surged an average of over 700%, including a steep rise in 2020 that continued into 2021. The word ally itself landed within the top 850 of the many thousands of search terms that led people to Dictionary.com this year. What’s more, the top related search for allyship in 2021 is definitional in nature: what is allyship, which underscores the timeliness and relevance of our adding allyship this year.

Allyship at work, school, and home Topics people searched in conjunction with allyship in 2021 also reveal how the word brings together themes that defined many of our work, school, and home lives over this year—including new and newly prominent vocabulary that we used to talk about them. One of these searches was workplace. Indeed, as the country continued to reckon with racism in 2021, many businesses and organizations began efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI for short. These efforts extended into the classroom, where critical race theory (CRT), both as a term and topic, became a defining flashpoint in 2021. Work and school were also defined by COVID-19 vaccines—as well as antivax opposition to them and the disease’s Delta, Omicron, and other named variants.We added the word allyship this year to document its specific sense that has become more prevalent in recent years. But the word continues to evolve: In 2021, allyship was increasingly discussed in relation to historically marginalized groups, especially Black and LGBTQ+ communities. There was also noticeable discussion of engaging in allyship for other specific groups: for parents balancing work and childcare during school shutdowns, especially mothers taking on the bulk of caregiving. For healthcare workers, teachers, flight attendants, and retail and service industry workers. For all of the people disproportionately burdened by a pandemic that has claimed over 5 million lives—and counting, even as many of us try to get back to some kind of normal. Shows of support and advocacy for these groups in 2021 point to ways in which the term allyship is giving name to ever more nuanced ideas of social justice and is increasingly being extended to contexts of support outside of racial, gender, and sexual identity, such as disability and economic status.

Allyship in news and culture The word allyship also brings together many of the defining new stories of 2021: anti-Asian racism; the Chauvin and Rittenhouse trials; Britney Spears’s conservatorship; Simone Biles’s twisties and the mental health of athletes; the Great Resignation; the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its impacts, including on the country’s women and girls as well as all who served and died in the war; media coverage of violent crimes and the phenomenon known as “missing white woman syndrome” (um, WTH is this missing white woman syndrome phenomenon?!); and that collective, pervasive feeling of burnout, all amid an unrelenting climate emergency. These events were notable not only in their own right, of course, but also because of the ways we largely reacted to and discussed them through the lens of who gets a voice, who deserves empathy, and who and what is valued. This was a lens of allyship.

According to corpus data, the word that, far and away, most commonly precedes allyship is performative. The three next most frequent collocations are true, white, and real. Despite the best intentions of societal efforts to foster allyship, use of the term allyship is frequently concerned about how such efforts often fall short and what it means to be an authentic ally.

📝 What’s performative allyship? In the context of allyship, the word performative is often used in contrast with what’s considered real or true allyship. Describing people’s actions as performative suggests that they are simply “playing the part” of being an ally instead of actually supporting the people they claim to—often by centering themselves in the situation.In this sense, allyship is often considered a status that must be continuously earned—not one that’s simply declared by oneself and worn like a merit badge. In other words, allyship can be understood as an ongoing journey, not a final destination. Not unlike a dictionary: always updating, never a finished product.On the other side of the spectrum, the use of words like allyship is sometimes criticized as “woke for the sake of being woke”—often as a way of dismissing the very idea that inequality exists among different groups.On the other side of this lens, on the other side of allyship, is the division that came to a disturbing and deadly head in the event that opened 2021: the attack on the US Capitol on January 6. It was a defining moment not only for politics this year, but also for the history of our democracy. The attack sent searches for insurrection, coup, sedition, and related words to some of the highest-trending levels on Dictionary.com all year.

Allyship across Dictionary.com The word allyship also brings together much of the lexicographical and educational work we did across Dictionary.com in 2021.This year, we continued updating our dictionary to better document and describe the changing language of identity and justice in society. Significant areas we addressed were: Accessibility language: Examples include new entries for screen reader, alt text, and various distinct types of captioning. DEI topics and terms: Examples include entries for DEI, JEDI, CRT, UBI, and minoritize. Disability language: Examples include extensive notes at special, disability, and disabled discussing person-first vs. identity-first language for disabilities, and the preference of straightforward disabled or with a disability over older terms (handicapped) and overly euphemistic language (special, challenged). Homelessness: Examples include new entries for unhoused and unsheltered and replacing most descriptions of people as homeless with these new terms or with experiencing homelessness. Identity language: Examples include new entries for AAPI and BIPOC, revising entries to capitalize Indigenous when referring to people, and replacing the noun slave with enslaved person. Mental Health: Examples include new entries for content warning and trigger warning. Minoritized religions: Examples include revisions to Voodoo and related entries. Nonnative speakers: Examples include translanguaging, which is increasingly preferred to code-switching.Altogether, these updates touched hundreds of entries. Our lexicographers also updated our thesaurus to include scores of nonbinary pronouns, such as xe and zie.

Read more about many of these changes, along with ongoing COVID, tech, pop culture, and other updates to our dictionary, in our spring and summer announcements.

Supporting these updates was an array of editorial content providing in-depth context on these often confusing—and challenging—areas of language change.This content—amounting to over 60 articles—spanned defining identity terms and DEI topics (e.g., CODA, cultural competence) to providing more inclusive coverage of important occasions across diverse peoples and cultures (e.g., BIPOC Mental Health Month, International Transgender Day of Remembrance, Onam, Installation of Guru Granth Sahib) and extensive explainers on some of the most pressing topics of language and identity today. Some highlights of the latter include: The Language Of Ageism: Understanding How We Talk About Older People, The Evolving Language Around The Autism Spectrum: What You Need To Know, How To Talk About Mental Health: Do’s, Don’ts, And Words To Know, Understanding The Caribbean: The Countries, People, And Words That Come From The Region, Understanding Native American Heritage: The Tribes, Languages, And Culture, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Columbus Day, And The Language Of Indigenous Identities, How To Use Gender-Neutral Language To Promote Inclusivity, Allyship in education.

This year at Dictionary.com, we’ve been committed more than ever before to becoming an education ally. From building out the features of Grammar Coach™ and the Dictionary Academy™ to bringing the learning-management system Skillo into our company, we continue to expand our offerings as a dictionary and thesaurus into more robust educational products to meet the real needs of teachers and learners in a variety of learning environments.Allyship into the future.

Finally, allyship has the power to bring us all together. In trying and divided times, the word allyship sounds a much-needed note of hope, optimism, and possibility for the future—hopefully a future in which the word is not just given lip service, but lived out.

Here’s to hoping we can all get allied around that.

That’s it for this one, guys! That copy and paste just wears me out! 😂🤣 I will see you shortly, many surprises ahead…

P, L, & N💋

~sg

Categories
Grammatical Sabbatical In The News

WTH Merriam-Webster?!

Merriam-Webster recognizing ‘irregardless’ as a word

The following article was written by Jisha Joseph, October 22, 2020, and posted on Upworthy. See original post HERE.

“irregardless” — stigmatized as a non-word that has the opposite meaning of its intended use — is included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

We’ve all been or known one of those people who take grammar very seriously. When the question is about the integrity of the English language, they wouldn’t stop themselves from correcting even Shakespeare himself. While they can sometimes come across as rather annoying with their grammar policing, we must admit, they do play an important part in ensuring that the sanctity of the language is maintained to some degree and that matters such as punctuation don’t go completely forgotten. Especially now, when it appears as though even the gatekeepers of the English language seem inlined to welcome some new — and some would argue, undeserving — comers into the dictionary.

“We do not make the English language, we merely record it.”

Merriam-Webster

One such newcomer, or rather its inclusion in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, came as quite the upsetting news for actress Jamie Lee Curtis who turned to Twitter to express her disappointment. “In case you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, Merriam-Webster just officially recognized ‘irregardless’ as a word,” the star tweeted and her grammar fanatic fans nearly lost it. “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore,” replied @PinkysPortal while Twitter user Anna Jagielo wrote: “Ugh! It cannot be. It goes against literally everything. A double negative- hate mob mentality.”

“Next they’ll just say that ‘their, they’re, and there’ are all interchangeable, along with ‘your and you’re.’ Most people believe that to be true already when you see how they post on social media/memes,” warned Nick Carter. Actress Suzanne Cryer shared Lee Curtis’ dismay as she wrote: “Nooooooooooooooooo. Your right. A suspicious action! It’s literally insane! I wish there were less hipsters working at Merriam-Webster. They had better make this 2020 dictionary inflammable or I might burn it.” Meanwhile, Twitter user @OneMoreBrian was plagued by another thought. “Christ… after 30 years of being told it’s not a word, I now have to reset my language?” they asked.

While grammar Twitter lamented the supposed decline of the language, some social media users asked the fact-checking website Snopes to verify whether Merriam-Webster dictionary had in fact newly recognized “irregardless” as a word in the English language. As it turns out, “irregardless” — which long been stigmatized as a non-word that has the opposite meaning of its intended use — is indeed included in Merriam-Webster. However, despite gaining new notoriety online, it isn’t a new addition. Speaking to NPR on the matter, a Merriam-Webster spokesperson revealed that “irregardless” has appeared in the pages of its Unabridged dictionary edition since 1934.

Moreover, other dictionaries of the likes of Webster’’ New World College Dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and the Cambridge Dictionary, also recognize “irregardless” as a word. Following the sudden online outrage earlier this year, Merriam-Webster grabbed the opportunity to tease the internet over its disapproval of the term in its July 3 Words of the Week post. “From time to time, it is drawn to our attention that certain parties find it objectionable that we have included irregardless in our dictionary. The outrage presumably springs from our allowing this callow arriviste to rub elbows with other, nobler, words; the very presence of irregardless besmirches such entries as asshead, ninnyhammer, and schnook,” the post reads.

“Irregardless is included in our dictionary because it has been in widespread and near-constant use since 1795. We must warn you, gentle readers, that there are some other words which appear for the first time this very same year that we define in our dictionary. Yes! We have allowed entry to such Johnnies-come-lately as bewhiskered, citizenry, and terrorism, all of which have their earliest written evidence the same year as irregardless,” it continues. “We do not make the English language, we merely record it. If people use a word with consistent meaning, over a broad geographic range, and for an extended period of time chances are very high that it will go into our dictionary.” Well, there you have it, folks. “Irregardless” is here to stay.


Merriam-Webster’s response to this being big news again is hilarious. Samuel Johnson couldn’t have penned a better response!

You gotta love a dictionary with a sense of humor! I didn’t realize, or never thought about the fact that ‘irregardless’ has been in the dictionary all along! I feel much more relaxed than I was when I first saw the headline. English is a living language, continuously changing, evolving, and adapting. Frankly I’m shocked that these lexicographers are as on top of things as they are!

Speaking of words…


Top Logophile Websites

If you’re still reading then you’re obviously another logophile! so check out some of my favorite ‘word’ sites to kill time on:

Wordnik: A social network site for word lovers who list, discuss, share, and keep track of our favorite words. You can Adopt A Word here, too! 🧡

Dictionary.com is so much more than just their WotD! For example, today’s Quiz Yourself is on SERIOUSLY SPOOKY CREATURE NAMES! If you breeze through everything there, head over to the sister site – Thesaurus.com.

The Phrontistery: This is such a huge site, with so much going on, I can’t even begin to list things.

Speed Round! Just go check these out of you love words –

Phrase Finder, Literary Devices, Urban Dictionary, Wordle, Literary Devices, Fun With Words: Glossary of Linguistics and Rhetoric, Word Games – play free online

Until next time… xxoo

P, L & N 💕

sg