Take a bow: ‘Science’ crowned word of the year by Merriam-Webster

Science: 2013 word of the year?
Nerds rejoice: ‘Science’ was word of the year, according to Merriam-Webster. Above, science educator Bill Nye (left) appears with comedian Bob Newhart on CBS’s sitcom The Big Bang Theory, based at Caltech.
(Monty Britnon / CBS)

Move over, “selfie.” The Oxford English Dictionary may have let you into the official word club, but you’re still a lexical dilettante. The king of searched words this year, according to Merriam-Webster, is none other than “science.”

The results from Merriam-Webster, based on 100 million lookups in its online dictionary per month, showed that “science” showed the highest increase in lookups compared to last year, 176%. Its definition: “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation." 

“It is a word that is connected to broad cultural dichotomies: observation and intuition, evidence and tradition,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, said in a statement. “A wide variety of discussions centered on science this year, from climate change to educational policy.”

Indeed. The 36-year-old Voyager 1 spacecraft entered interstellar space. The planet-hunting Kepler space telescope discovered a bumper crop of new worlds before its extended mission suddenly ended. The discovery of the so-called God particle, the Higgs boson, earned the Nobel Prize in physics. And the most dramatic meteor to shake up Earth since 1908 screamed over Chelyabinsk, Russia, shattering windows and injuring more than 1,000 people.


Science appears to be more in vogue of late, too. The Mars rover Curiosity, which found signs of life-friendly environments on the Red Planet, has more than 1.4 million followers. Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers like “Mohawk Guy” Bobak Ferdowsi are making science cool again. And “The Big Bang Theory,” a television comedy centered around Caltech scientists and engineers, is a top-rated show for CBS now in its seventh season.

Nerds can rejoice at science’s strong showing this year. The runner-up was also science-y: “cognitive,” or “of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering).” Indeed, concussions suffered by football and hockey players in the NFL and NHL were major stories, and President Obama announced an initiative to map the human brain.


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