Dictionary.com Word of the Year 2017

Posted 7 December, 2017 by Alicia in Language / 0 Comments  


For those of you who may not have been aware, Dictionary.com has chosen their word of the year for 2017. The word is complicit. There is no doubt that this year’s word, like many others, was inspired by the political climate of our nation, the United States.

The website gives this definition:

  • choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.

Merriam-Webster gives this definition:

  • helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way


Please read the announcement article here for the full story. I will pull out some interesting points. It seems that the word gained popularity “after Saturday Night Live aired their satirical ad featuring Scarlett Johansson playing Ivanka Trump, hawking a perfume called Complicit. This scent was marketed as “The fragrance for the woman who could stop all this, but won’t.” Then later, in an interview, Ivanka herself tried to redefine the word. Complicit has more instances of political relevancy; again I suggest reading the article. I do not wish to get too political here at Alicia the Editor. My focus is primarily on grammar and semantics, not sociolinguistics—especially modern. I wish to refrain from discussing polarizing political issues. But there are plenty of good discussions to find on other sites.

That said, I’ll give a bit of info about its history from the OED. It seems to have been formed from complicity, by way of backformation. This is when you take a word and shorten it to make another part of speech associated with that same word. An example is the word edit, from editor. Edit is the verb formed from the noun editor. Complicit is the adjective formed from the noun complicity. It appears that similar things happened with implicit and explicit.

Let’s have their definition:

  • Involved knowingly or with passive compliance, often in something underhand, sinister, or illegal.

The earliest recorded use was in 1855, although Dictionary.com states that it was 1861. The example is thus:

There was no evidence to show clearly that Father Petcherine was complicit in their burning.

I hope you found this interesting. It’s always good to take note of the word of the year and the events surrounding it. Any chance to meaningfully reflect upon our own lives and how words shape them should be seized. There have been articles on this recently; I suggest reading the news to catch these. They often have political contexts, such as the article on embattled, but some do not. Read everything anyway. (:



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