‘Justice’ prevails as 2018 word of the year

Justice has arrived — in one sense, that is.

>>Dan LevinThe New York Times
Published : 18 Dec 2018, 06:53 AM
Updated : 18 Dec 2018, 06:53 AM

No, Robert Mueller has not concluded his wide-ranging 18-month investigation into Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election, and sweeping criminal justice legislation has not yet come up for a vote. But the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster on Monday selected “justice” as its word of the year, inspired by 12 long months of news headlines about the obstruction of justice, the Department of Justice and a certain Supreme Court justice, not to mention high-profile debates over racial and social justice (or the lack thereof).

In choosing the noun, Merriam-Webster said “justice” was looked up on its website a whopping 74 percent more often this year than in 2017. Searches for the term spiked following news stories that featured the word, the company said, often involving the Justice Department, which is overseeing the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling.

“For many reasons and for many meanings, one thing’s for sure: Justice has been on the minds of many people in 2018,” the company said in a statement, explaining that the word, often as a concept or used as a legal term, “was at the centre of many of our national debates in the past year.”

Defining an entire year of politics and culture by one word is, of course, an inexact science. Oxford Dictionaries chose “toxic” as its word of the year. Dictionary.com went with “misinformation.”

According to Merriam-Webster, “justice” beat out words like “nationalism” and “pansexual.” Surprisingly, the term “lodestar” made the list of contenders. The obscure noun saw a spike in searches after it appeared in an anonymous New York Times op-ed, written by a senior official in the Trump administration who claimed to be secretly thwarting the president’s worst impulses.

Merriam-Webster, which relies on its own website data to make its annual selection, suggested that President Donald Trump had a hand, however accidentally, in tipping the scales toward “justice.”

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, said in a video that searches for “obstruction of justice” jumped in August after Trump called on Twitter for Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, to stop the Mueller investigation. Similar spikes occurred during the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, he said.

Perhaps it’s fitting that “justice,” a term often personified as a blindfolded woman carrying a sword and holding a balance, takes over from Merriam-Webster’s 2017 word of the year: feminism.

© 2018 New York Times News Service

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher