Posts Tagged ‘Words’

 

A Search for a Definition Can Motivate A Search for Meaning

Posted on: November 29th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

A couple days ago, dictionary.com selected “Complicit” as its 2017 Word of the Year. Dictionary.com defines complicit as, ‘choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.’ Or, put simply, it means being, at some level, responsible for something . . . even if indirectly.”

You can click here to read about the logic behind dictionary.com’s choice, and the graph below shows those times during the year when there were spikes in the number of searches for the definition of complicit:

 

 

You might also be interested in knowing what other words trended highly this year on Dictionary.com’s site:

It also appears that the words “power” and the phrase “sexual assault” were frequently searched.

Dictionary.com isn’t the only dictionary that selects a word of the year. Another dictionary, Collins, selected “fake news” as its 2017 first choice, with “gig economy” as a close second. Other dictionaries will wait for several weeks to announce their winning words, but let’s not confuse a search for definition with an inquiry for understanding. While these dictionaries compete for our attention with gimmicks like “the word of the year,” probe beneath the number of searches for a word’s definition, and you’ll find that it speaks to our yearning to understand the world about us. Looking up the definition of a word won’t change the world. But in the case of “complicit,” knowing what it means can motivate us to fix what we don’t like.

There is a wise insight found in the Jewish tradition about the power of words and their ability to create worlds (see Pirkei Avot 5:1) This insight is based on the Genesis creation story (Chapter 1), in which God’s words literally give birth to the world and its creations, a world that, when completed, is described as “very good.” Words, then, can create worlds of meaning and purpose, or become weapons to distort truth and poison relationships.

As we ready to close the secular new year, it’s worth quoting the last paragraph of the article by dictionary.com explaining its choice of “complicit” as the 2017 Word of the Year:

Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not. It’s a word that reminds us that even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point we must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit The good news: we have over a full year to work toward a more optimistic finalist for the 2018 Word of the Year. What would you like it to be, and what work are you willing to do so that the number of people who search for it in 2018 will reach a record-breaking high? Let me hear your suggestions below and thanks!