Dictionary reference : Last year people couldn’t stop talking about twerk, selfie, and cronut, but what words captured people’s curiosity in 2014? To isolate the words that garnered new attention in 2014, we looked how this year’s lookups shifted in rank compared to 2013. Here are 11 that piqued our interest.
The most notable spike in interest was in the term maleficent. The word means “doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious.” Unpacking trends is not an exact science, but we attribute the surge to Angelina Jolie and the spring release of Maleficent, a Disney film about a dark queen who curses Princess Aurora, better known as Sleeping Beauty. The effect of the box office was seen elsewhere in our lookup data this year: divergent was up over 1,500 spots in rank, and interstellar saw a bump of over 6,000.
The sleeper hit of the year was in the small but mighty word OK. This humble term jumped in rank over 7,000 spots. The term gained new relevance in the tech landscape with the unveiling of Google’s voice-command feature last year, which is activated by the phrase “OK Google.” It was also featured in the movie The Fault in Our Stars, which hit theaters in spring, as the term the two main characters used to express their love. It is spelled okay in the book, but we wonder if the movie had TFIOS fans searching our entry page for a romantic definition.
Misogynistic climbed 4,000 spots in rank from 2013. A handful of related terms were trending to a lesser degree, including misogynist and sexism. Events in the news that may have contributed to the interest were the Santa Barbara shooting in May in which seven people were killed by a young man who targeted a sorority house, and the social media campaign #YesAllWomen that emerged shortly thereafter, which explored experiences and perceptions of sexism and gender norms.
Sociopath is perhaps the most interesting of the trending words for 2014. It broke into our top five most looked up terms, occupying a rank between top-lookup fixtures metaphor and affect. Interest in the term was high 2013, so the increase in rank was just 40 spots, but the steady and growing interest is noteworthy. Fictional characters with tendencies that some might label sociopathic have been popping up all over TV and film; notable examples this year include Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler, Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal, and the Underwoods in House of Cards. More recently, in the podcast Serial, the host Sarah Koenig entertains the idea of whether or not convicted murder Adnan Syed is a sociopath. People were also curious about the term psychopath, which jumped 988 spots, and sociopathy, which was up by over 11,000. Narcissist moved up 648 spots.
The word caliphate spiked in interest this year, jumping over 17,000 spots in rank. The term was used in a flurry of news stories in June, when ISIS declared itself a caliphate and shortened its name to The Islamic State. We define caliphate as “the rank, jurisdiction, or government of a caliph,” a caliph being a spiritual leader of Islam. People were also looking up the word caliph this year; the term saw a shift of 6,945 spots.
In 2014, an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa captured the world’s attention. The interest was reflected in our data; the word Ebola climbed in rank by over 40,000 spots. Quarantine was up nearly 2,000 spots, and czar was up 3,603, likely a result of President Obama’s appointment of an “Ebola czar” in October.
The word asphyxiation jumped up over 9,800 spots this year, with the verb asphyxiate up 4,606 spots. The surge may be related to the death of Eric Garner at the hands of a police officer in New York in July. Asphyxiation is defined as “the act of causing (someone) to die or lose consciousness by impairing normal breathing.”
The word elementary was jumped over 5,000 spots this year. We’re not entirely sure why, but there does seem to be a case of Sherlock fever seizing television audiences right now; not one but two hit shows are currently on the air chronicling the modern-day adventures of the legendary detective that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote into existence in the 1880s: Sherlock on BBC and Elementary on CBS. The name of the latter plays on what became Mr. Holmes’s signature phrase, despite his never having uttered it in Doyle’s writing: “Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.”
This term was trending to a lesser degree than some of the other terms on this list, but it did rise in rank over 15,500 spots. Nicki Minaj’s single of the same name was released in August and peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 list. We don’t have the definition of anaconda that fans of this song were likely looking for, but if this slang sense catches on more broadly, an update to our definition page might be in order.
The word redskin saw a modest bump in rank this year, climbing 10,132 spots from last year. The word was in the news throughout the year in the context of professional football. In June, the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled trademark protections for the Washington Redskins on the grounds that the term redskin is disparaging to Native Americans. President Obama weighed in on the debate this year, telling the Associated Press, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team—even if it had a storied history—that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”
We define tinder as “any dry substance that readily takes fire from a spark,” but we suspect curiosity in this term was piqued thanks to the dating app of the same name that was making headlines this year. Tinder was up by nearly 3,500 spots in rank compared to last year, a little less than our favorite wild card trending word of the year: pistachio. This nutty term may have received a bump from Stephen Colbert, who starred in a commercial for Wonderful Pistachios that aired during the Super Bowl. As far as we know, it’s not the name of an app—yet.