HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Opening up the archives: JSTOR wants to tie a library to the news
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
June 8, 2010, 1:37 p.m.

Don’t get apoplectic: The NYT’s most looked-up words skew more than a little dark and depressing

A year ago, we ran a post on the 50 words that New York Times users looked up the most often, using the dictionary tool on NYTimes.com. We ran the post because we thought it was an interesting window into the kind of ambient data that news organizations can assemble from their users’ behavior — data that can then be put to use in better tailoring the product to users’ needs.

Aw, who am I kidding? We ran the post because we’re a bunch of word nerds and we thought it was really neat. It’s since become the most popular post in the history of our little website.

The Times is out with the 2010 version of that list. Phil Corbett, associate managing editor for standards has written up a blog post detailing the findings, and there’s a PDF of the words. I’ve taken those words and moved them from the PDF to the spreadsheet you see above (also available here).

Corbett has some nice observations about specific words — me, my mind went to “sinecure” when it saw “cynosure” — but what struck me was how comparatively dark this year’s list is. (“Black, bleak, blue, cheerless, desolate, dismal, dreary, gloomy, glum, joyless, somber, tenebrific. See happy/unhappy, light/darkness.”) This isn’t the blissful side of SAT vocab practice.

New words appearing on this year’s list for the first time include austerity (“The quality of being severe or stern in disposition or appearance; somber and grave”), overhaul (“To examine or go over carefully for needed repairs”), opprobrium (“Disgrace arising from exceedingly shameful conduct; ignominy”), obduracy (“The state or quality of being intractable or hardened”), desultory (“Having no set plan; haphazard or random”), and Manichean (“A believer in Manichaeism, a dualistic philosophy dividing the world between good and evil principles or regarding matter as intrinsically evil and mind as intrinsically good”), apostates (“One who has abandoned one’s religious faith, a political party, one’s principles, or a cause”).

Not the words of a happy time. And moving way up in the rankings this year were both profligacy (“The quality of state of being recklessly wasteful, wildly extravagant”) and profligate, plus inchoate (“Imperfectly formed or developed”), apostates (“One who has abandoned one’s religious faith, a political party, one’s principles, or a cause”) and omertà (“A rule or code that prohibits speaking or divulging information about certain activities, especially the activities of a criminal organization”)

On the flip side, Times readers have apparently become much more comfortable with solipsism in the past year (“The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified”), which dropped off in lookups. Not to mention laconic (“Using or marked by the use of few words; terse or concise,” ironically enough), saturnine (“Melancholy or sullen; having or marked by a tendency to be bitter or sardonic”), and epistemological (“Relating to the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity”).

In any event, go check out Corbett’s piece and the list. Last year’s list of most looked-up words is below; note that this year, the numbers separate out word mentions in the news vs. op-ed pages of the Times. And note that the Times’ blogs, among other parts of the site, aren’t counted in these data.

POSTED     June 8, 2010, 1:37 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Opening up the archives: JSTOR wants to tie a library to the news
Its new site JSTOR Daily highlights interesting research and offers background and context on current events.
Six fresh ideas for news design from a #SNDMakes designathon
New media and legacy media came together at the second weekend-long “hackathon” hosted by the Society for News Design.
Where you get your news depends on where you stand on the issues
A new study by the Pew Research Center examines how Americans’ news consumption habits correlate with where they fall on the political spectrum.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
537Watching what happens: The New York Times is making a front-page bet on real-time aggregation
A new homepage feature called “Watching” offers readers a feed of headlines, tweets, and multimedia from around the web.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Quartz
Tampa Bay Times
GlobalPost
Reuters
Yahoo
Twitter
GateHouse Media
The Dish
Forbes
New Jersey Newsroom
The New York Times
Patch