And the winner is . . . “Complicit”. Every year Dictionary.com identifies the one word that has impacted us the most. At Dictionary.com, the Word of the Year serves as a symbol of the year’s most meaningful events and lookup trends. Just as Time magazine names its person of the year–that individual who has most influenced the world’s news–the Word of the Year is that word that has popped up in the most conversations. Dictionary.com’s decision is data-based; they can track and review the number of searches over the course of the year.
Complicit means “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.” Being, at some level, responsible for something . . . even if indirectly. Those who stay silent and do not speak out are also complicit; by not being against something, we are condoning it.
A year filled with political chaos
In a year that has been filled with an unprecedented level of political chaos, “complicit” is a word that has filled the headlines for a year. It began with the inauguration, and it steadily gained momentum. From Russian mafia to officials at the highest levels of government, the Trump administration seemed to be complicit with all of them.
Complicit experienced a huge spike on April 5
The largest increase in lookups for complicit–up more than 11,000%–was on April 5, when Ivanka Trump tried to redefine complicit. CBS’ Gayle King asked her about the accusations that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, were complicit in the actions of her father. Her response: “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”
It’s important to note that complicit is not one of those words that can have both positive and negative connotations, depending on your orientation. There’s nothing positive about this word. Being complicit is negative. It means that a person is involved with someone or something that’s wrong. Politics aside, whether you’re a conservative or a liberal, the meaning of complicit cannot be construed subjectively. Ivanka Trump went on to cap off her own personal definition of complicit with “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”
Climate change and the Trump administration’s complicity
For years we’ve been learning about climate change and how we’ve damaged our environment. We all have worked to decrease our footprints, determined to become better stewards of the environment. Companies began rethinking their business models, communities incenting their citizens for embracing clean energy. Solar power and windmills became more affordable and the technology improved. Yet Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, and his EPA chief has been complicit in his refusal to acknowledge that humans play a primary role in climate change. Information on climate change was removed from the government’s website this year. If only it were that easy. Removing it from a website won’t make it go away.
During the past year we have seen the extreme weather conditions that have brought widespread destruction that climate change can wreak. Terms like climate change, global warming, and carbon dioxide all showed up trending searches this year.
Power and sexual assault
In 2017, allegations of sexual assault were made against a growing number of powerful men, resulting in the resignation and firing of people across multiple industries. Film executive Harvey Weinstein emerged as a longtime predator after numerous women stepped up to tell their stories of sexual assault that lasted for decades. Even worse—his complicit staff covered up for him, often arranging his sexual shenanigans. Weinstein’s downfall inspired other assault survivors to come forward with their own stories.
Dictionary.com has used its platform to make a data-driven political statement. But the bigger message may be something we’ve always known, that words have the power to shape dialog and the way we interpret events.
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