Learning what the world is thinking via the word definitions people look up

For those who are on Twitter, the information you can learn is overwhelming. There are hundreds of celebrities, athletes, news agencies, sportswriters, et cetera, bombarding you with information. Besides being the first to know with whom Tiger slept, or which baseball player signed with which team, you can find someone doing something pretty cool on Twitter. Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster, has an account. On it, he “offers up daily dispatches on new words, etymology and more. Read his tweets about the latest happenings at Merriam-Webster and the wider world of lexicography and linguistics.”

I have enjoyed following him tremendously. One of my favorite things he posts is the words that people are searching for most frequently on Merriam-Webster’s website. For example, he posted this today:

Huge lookups for ‘indefinite’ since Friday. http://tinyurl.com/y9y2z8b All Tiger, all the time.

Tiger Woods says he’s taking an indefinite leave from golf to get his life and marriage back together. As a result, people flock to m-w.com to look up the word they aren’t sure about.

Another example:

‘Infamy’ most looked-up word yesterday http://tinyurl.com/yd3bnpm Pearl Harbor Day.

On December 7, 1941 the terrible attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. The following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a famous speech which included one of the more famous lines spoken by a U.S. president – “a date which will life in infamy”. Lo and behold, in 2009, on Pearl Harbor Day, many flock to the dictionary to look up the word infamy.

It’s really cool to me that you can see what’s going on in the world, or popular culture, or just what’s on people’s minds by the words they search for.

For those that are interested, you can “follow” Peter Sokolowski by clicking here. I would very much recommend it.


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