Cleavage proves divisive in Cambridge’s words of 2014

by Alastair Horne​​​​​
Other dictionaries may choose faddish novelties as their words of the year, but here at Cambridge, we like to do something different. We look for the words that have seen sudden surges in searches over the course of the year – words that have been baffling users of English and driven them to their dictionaries for explanation.

Some of the most remarkable rises in search frequency occur when a popular news story involves obscure words or phrases – items that are unlikely to have featured in a student’s vocabulary notebook. Sometimes these words are obscure because they are technical: September’s vote on Scottish independence saw a massive rise in searches for the words ‘devolution’ and ‘referendum’, as our users tried to understand precisely what the vote involved.

Often, though, the vocabulary is less specialized in nature. Actress Deepika Padukone was inadvertently responsible for two of the year’s biggest rises in searched-for words, when the Times of India tweeted a video of her, filmed from above, with the commentary “OMG: Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show”. The tweet and video provoked outrage, as Padukone and her supporters condemned her objectification by a sexist media, but it also led to a massive rise in searches for ‘cleavage’ from readers unfamiliar with the term.

The same week, Padukone was also responsible for a rise in searches for the term ‘fanny’, though these may have been in vain. At the time of the controversy, Padukone was promoting her new film, Finding Fanny, and many dictionary users sought an explanation for this unfamiliar word in their trusted online dictionary. On this rare occasion, however, we weren’t able to help: the ‘Fanny’ of the film’s title is actually the name of one of its characters, and so none of the various definitions to be found in the Cambridge Dictionaries was applicable.

The year’s most serious stories continued to be reflected in searches. When South African athlete Oscar Pistorius was convicted of the ‘culpable homicide’ of Reeva Steenkamp rather than her murder, we saw a surge in searches for both of those words. And similarly, the sad death of Robin Williams in August saw a marked rise in searches for ‘asphyxiate’.

Whatever the news, it’s good to know that more people than ever are turning to their online Cambridge dictionaries for help. We’ll continue to be here for you in 2015, helping you to understand the biggest stories of the year. All the best for the new year!

7 thoughts on “Cleavage proves divisive in Cambridge’s words of 2014

  1. Pingback: Words of 2014 Round-up | OUPblog

  2. Mike Hardinge

    “culpable homicide”. This is where dictionaries do not help if they do not contain the entire collocation but only offer separate definitions of the separate parts, i.e. of “culpable” and “homicide”. See “culpable homicide” in Scots Law, South African Law, etc (not English Law, where it would be “manslaughter”) Look it up in Wikipedia.

  3. Really? large numbers of people don’t know the word cleavage? And I am gay! Thank you Project Runway.
    Asphyxiate? hard to spell, but unknown? with all the CSI shows and movies about murder, I am, again,

  4. Pingback: New words – 17 February 2020 – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog – Get Proficiency in English

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