'Complicit' is the word of the year, says site

Russian election influence, the sexual harassment scandals, mass shootings and the opioid epidemic helped to elevate the word "complicit" as Dictionary.com's word of the year.

Russian election influence, the ever-widening sexual harassment scandals, mass shootings and the opioid epidemic helped to elevate the word “complicit” as Dictionary.com’s word of the year for 2017.

Searches for the word surged about 300 percent from last year as “complicit” hit just about every hot button from politics to natural disasters, lexicographer Jane Solomon said.

“This year a conversation that keeps on surfacing is what exactly it means to be complicit,” she said. “Complicit has sprung up in conversations about those who speak out against powerful figures in institutions, and those who stay silent.”

The first of three major spikes for the word occurred on March 12. That was the day after “Saturday Night Live” broadcast a sketch starring Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka Trump in a glittery gold dress peddling a fragrance called “Complicit” because: “She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s complicit.”

The spike was followed by another on April 5, also related to Ivanka, Solomon said. It was the day after she appeared on “CBS This Morning” and told Gayle King: “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”

It was unclear at the time whether Ivanka was deflecting or whether the summa cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business with a degree in economics did not really know.

The third major spike happened on October 24, the day Jeff Flake, a Republican senator for Arizona, said he would not seek re-election. He criticized President Donald Trump and urged fellow Republicans not to stand silently with Trump.

“I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr President, I will not be complicit,” Flake said.

Solomon noted that neither she nor Dictionary.com could know what sends people to dictionaries or dictionary sites to look up “complicit” or any other word. She and other lexicographers who study such behavior believe it is probably a combination of people who may not know a definition, are digging deeper, or are seeking inspiration or emotional reinforcement of some sort.

As for “complicit,” she said several other major events contributed to interest in the word. They include the rise of the opioid epidemic and how it came to pass, along with the spread of sexual harassment and assault allegations against an ever-growing list of powerful men, including film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The scandal that started in Hollywood and quickly spread across industries has led to many questions over who knew what, who might have contributed, and what it means to stay silent.

While Solomon shared percentage increases for “complicit”, Dictionary.com would not disclose the number of searches, calling the data proprietary.

The site chooses its word of the year by looking for data first, scouring searches by day, month and year to date and how they correspond to noteworthy events. This year, many high-volume trends unsurprisingly related to politics. But Dictionary.com also looks at lower-volume trends to see what other words resonated. Here is one of them: “Intersex” trended in January after model Hanne Gaby Odiele spoke about being intersex in an attempt to break taboos. As a noun, it means “an individual having reproductive organs or external sexual characteristics of both male and female.” 

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