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15 December 2015 /

‘Austerity’ announced as Cambridge Dictionaries’ Word of the Year

The Cambridge Dictionaries Online team have chosen ‘austerity’ as their Word of the Year, after rigorous examination of the words people are actually searching for. Researchers examined the data from searches on their online dictionaries to see which words sparked the most interest in 2015, and found that ‘austerity’ stood out as the clear front-runner.

On five separate occasions in 2015, ‘austerity’ was the most searched-for word, and across the year as a whole, it was amongst the top searches on Cambridge Dictionaries Online, the world’s most popular online dictionary website for learners of English.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Cambridge saw such regular spikes in searches for ‘austerity’ with elections across Europe all focusing on tough economic decisions. The first spike came in January, during the first Greek elections of the year, before much larger peaks in May, June and July, when the British General Election was well underway. In September, another smaller spike came at around the time of the Portuguese elections, and searches remained higher than usual for the rest of the year. 

Austerity frequency graph

Dom Glennon, Reference Systems Manager at Cambridge University Press, said: “Millions of people around the world use Cambridge Dictionaries Online, and every search is stored for analysis. By comparing weekly search statistics with those across the year as a whole, we can identify when particular words and phrases receive a significant increase in numbers of searches on the site.

“We found a huge influx of searches for the word ‘austerity’ from all over the world, as governments globally are implementing cost-cutting measures and sparking people’s interest in what the term actually means, and perhaps also how it’s spelled and pronounced.”

‘Austerity’ wasn’t the only instance of politics influencing dictionary searches; Cambridge also saw a surge in people looking up ‘swarm’ in July and August, after British Prime Minister David Cameron controversially used the word to refer to refugees living in camps in Calais, France.

Similarly, ‘horse-trading’ hit a peak in March, after an election in India where one party accused another of this practice when a vote failed to deliver any party a majority.

Sports and popular culture also influenced search spikes. When Brazilian footballer Neymar was accused of ‘showboating’ in the final of the Spanish Copa del Rey in May, football fans turned to Cambridge Dictionaries Online to learn the meaning of the term. And searches for ‘compos mentis’ surged earlier in the year when Madonna reassured fans around the world that she had received the all clear from medical staff following her embarrassing and painful tumble at a music awards ceremony.

Another unexpected spike in searches is a little embarrassing for Cambridge, however; when a coding error mistakenly mixed up the audio recording of the word ‘Pennsylvania’ with the definition for ‘Parmesan’, Cambridge Dictionaries Online briefly became a viral internet sensation. Pennsylvanian residents and fans of Italian cheese can rest assured that the error was swiftly fixed.

Cambridge will continue collecting and analysing dictionary data as we wait to see what world events will influence the words that people look up in 2016 and beyond.

Notes to editors:

For further information please contact Louisa Ackermann at

About Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Dedicated to excellence, its purpose is to further the University’s objective of advancing knowledge, education, learning and research. Its extensive peer-reviewed publishing lists comprise 45,000 titles covering academic research, professional development, more than 350 research journals, school level education, English language teaching and bible publishing. Playing a leading role in today’s international marketplace, Cambridge University Press has more then 50 offices around the world, and it distributes products to nearly every country in the world. 




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