Query me this

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  • Chris Dlugosz
Merriam-Webster announced last week that the word of the year—the one most frequently queried in its online dictionary—is “pragmatic,” which, being a dry and utilitarian descriptor, is a letdown. How boring! As a social barometer, it also strikes me as unrepresentative of a year that saw both the Occupy movement—say what you will about them, they’re not pragmatists exactly—and the Republican presidential primary, peopled primarily by fantasists. Merriam editor at large Peter Sokolowski told the Chicago Tribune that his site experienced increased searches for the word at midsummer, during the first round of debt-ceiling talks, and in November, when the Congressional supercommittee considered the debt problem again. “Supercommittee”—now there’s a heady little compound.

The second most searched word, “ambivalence,” is one for all seasons—when can’t you find something to be ambivalent about? Going down the list, it’s fun to link each entry to its 2011 inspiration: “insidious” was also the name of a horror movie; “didactic” was how everybody described Newt Gingrich. Both “capitalism” and “socialism” appear, and so does "apres moi le deluge," an inclusion that can apparently be traced to one CNN.com column by David Gergen, who was talking about the debt supercommittee. “Austerity,” which was last year’s most searched word, is this year's number five. These are darkening times: in 2007 the most searched word was “w00t.”

Editors also singled out “mercurial,” used variably to describe Steve Jobs, Kim Jong-il, Keith Olbermann, and Moammar Gadhafi. And Tribune reporter Heidi Stevens got into the game, too, with a few Chicago-specific suggestions. Most have to do with Rahm Emanuel, but Stevens does give a little space to the city’s epic February snowstorm, which she says brought us “snowpocalypse” and “snowmageddon.” This is clearly incomplete, though. Everybody knows that thing was called the “blizzaster.”

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