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TWTS: The American Dialect Society picks 2021’s Word of the Year

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On this week's That's What They Say, English Professor Anne Curzan fills us in on the American Dialect Society's annual "Word of the Year" vote. It was once again held virtually, and Curzan attended via Zoom.

Though COVID-19 vaccines were one of the most important things to happen in 2021, “vaccine” didn’t emerge as the winner in Friday night’s vote. Neither did “variant,” “omicron,” or “Great Resignation,” though they were all nominated.

The winner for 2021’s Word of the Year was “insurrection.” Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee and The Wall Street Journal’s language columnist explains this year’s selection:

More than a year after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the nation is still coming to grips with what happened that day. At the time, words like "coup," "sedition," and "riot" were used to describe the disturbing events at the Capitol, but "insurrection" – a term for a violent attempt to take control of the government – is the one that many felt best encapsulates the threat to democracy experienced that day. The lasting effects of that insurrection will be felt for years to come.

To hear about winners in other categories, including most likely to succeed, most useful, and digital word of the year, listen to the full conversation above.

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Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.