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Merriam-Webster Announces Its Word of the Year

Dec 15, 2014

Culture.

That is Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2014. If it sounds awfully broad, that is because the editors based in Springfield, Mass., rely more on hard data than feeling to choose their lexical time capsule. But this big idea, broken down into specifics, does a fine job of summing up the past year.

While Oxford chose vape for its connections to health and society, and Dictionary.com chose exposure to tie big news stories like Ebola and Ferguson together, Merriam-Webster settled on culture by figuring out which of their most popular words experienced the biggest spike in lookups this year.

Looking back to see what helped drive those lookups, the editors point out that "celebrity culture" and "rape culture" and "company culture" all had big years. “Culture is a word that we seem to be relying on more and more. It allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group with seriousness,” Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, said in a statement. “And it’s efficient: we talk about the 'culture' of a group rather than saying 'the typical habits, attitudes, and behaviors’ of that group."

In addition to the phrases Merriam-Webster points out, plenty of other brands of culture made headlines in 2014, including:

pop culture, consumer culture, military culture, culture wars, the "culture of free," startup culture, cultural clashes, cultures of violence, cultures of silence, drug culture, Western culture, Scottish culture, surf culture, high culture, teenage culture, culture shocks, police culture, the NFL's culture, media culture and hookup culture.

Other words that saw big lookup spikes this year, each with their own connections to what was going on in American culture, were nostalgia (our long goodbye to Mad Men), insidious (a certain horror movie franchise gets another installment), je ne sais quoi (Sonic selling us chicken wings) and feminism (the Gamergate controversy, for starters). In their press release, Merriam-Webster points out that TIME's nod to 2014 as "the year of pop feminism" sent many people running for the dictionary.

Here are the three top definitions of culture that Merriam-Webster returns when someone looks up the word, one we clearly can't get enough of:

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.

: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

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