2013 in 10 words

mandelaby Dom Glennon

As another eventful year passes, its most momentous incidents are reflected in searches on Cambridge Dictionaries Online (CDO). Whenever a major news story breaks, we often see an increase in searches for related words. Here’s a run-down of our top ten of those words and the events that inspired them.


On February 15 a meteorite fell to earth in Chelyabinsk in Russia, providing both some spectacular images and a big spike in online searches for meteorite. We also saw at that time an increase in searches for meteor and asteroid.


Sometimes it was not the most obvious word that was searched for: when Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February and was replaced two weeks later by Pope Francis, the first pope from South America, it was the word conclave, the meeting of cardinals to decide who to elect the new Pope, that became the most searched-for term during that period.


Earlier this year, American Edward Snowden disclosed details of a US government mass surveillance programme. With the allegations having widespread implications, the story was followed closely by global media, resulting in a surge of searches for surveillance and information in June.


There were many political stories that influenced searches, such as ricin in April when letters containing the poisonous powder were sent to Barack Obama. And when recently elected President Mohammed Morsi was deposed by the military in Egypt, coup saw the largest increase in hits, with oust also enjoying a rise in search popularity over that time.


2013 was also a year of significant births and deaths, with contrasting search influences. On April 8 Margaret Thatcher, UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, died. A controversial and confrontational figure throughout her life, could her death account for the big rise in searches for both bellicose and belligerent in the following days? On July 22 Prince George, a future king of England, was born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, prompting a rise in searches for duke, duchess, and heir.


The influence of film titles on dictionary searches is something we’ve regularly noticed, with recent examples of note being Inception and Avatar. It can be no coincidence that despicable is the most popular search for the month of July, when the film Despicable Me 2 was released.


The US economy was a source of global interest throughout the year, influencing your searches on CDO. March 1 saw big increases in searches for sequester and sequestration, technical terms for the cuts that would take place on the US budget if Republicans and Democrats could not agree on an alternative solution. Things got worse in October, when the deadlock led to a complete budget shutdown, with huge numbers of public employees furloughed – the word that received the most significant rise in searches during this time.


One of the most tragic stories of the year has been the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, prompting a massive global rescue effort in November. Around this time we saw a big increase for typhoon, as well as bedlam and calamity.


Our most recently trending word came at the start of this month. Just a few weeks ago, the world lost arguably the greatest statesman of modern times in Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and survivor of 27 years of incarceration. This has prompted a huge rise in searches for apartheid, the racist regime against which Mandela fought. Other words include legacy, tribute and praise.


But not all search spikes are so easily explained: why, for instance, did the generally little-searched-for word snigger suddenly receive a massive increase in popularity between March 7 and 8? If anyone has any ideas, we’d love to hear them!

with thanks to Lauren Ward, Colin McIntosh, Vicky Langley and Alastair Horne

7 thoughts on “2013 in 10 words

  1. Marjorie Rosenberg

    Interesting to see the list. Have a look at http://peo.cambridge.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=658:new-furlough&catid=10:jargon-buster&Itemid=4 on PEO for an explanation and article with activity on ‘furlough’ as well as this one http://peo.cambridge.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=589:sequester&catid=10:jargon-buster&Itemid=4 on ‘sequester’. Jargon busters go up on Professional English Online http://peo.cambridge.org/ twice a month. Great place to become involved with this type of vocabulary.

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