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Published on November 20, 2023
Some of us still hold on to dusty old dictionaries and huge encyclopedia volumes, reveling in the act of browsing through an actual, physical book. However, it's impossible to deny the ease of access that search engines provide when it comes to checking up a quick fact or finding the definition of a particularly tricky word.
If you spend any amount of time on the internet, chances are that you've done just that once or twice. And guess what? You are not alone. Here, in no particular order, are 8 of the most looked-up definitions across the United States in 2023.
A "pyrrhic victory" is one that comes at such a heavy cost that it's tantamount to defeat. In a sense, it's the polar opposite of the notion of living to fight another day.
This interesting phrase finds its roots in King Pyrrhus of Epirus, a Greek king who fought and won several battles against a growing early Rome. His victories, however, came at the expense of unacceptably heavy losses, and he is quoted as having said, "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined."
This word was one of the most searched by the residents of Washington, D.C., and for good reason. For a capital city, Washington D.C. is surprisingly green, and it recently refreshed its sustainability plan, setting goals and targets up to 2032.
This is good news, as concerns for long-term sustainability rise, and humanity as a whole strives for a more eco-friendly way of life.
Saleratus searches, weirdly enough, reached an all-time high during the months of April and July of 2023. If you either live or have any friends or relatives in Texas or Vermont, maybe you'll be able to tell us what the spike in saleratus searches is all about. For the rest of you, if you'd like to know, saleratus is the Latin word for sodium bicarbonate–better known as baking soda.
"Oligarchy" is a word with Greek roots that translates to "the rule of the few." It's used to describe a form of government in which a dominant elite controls all the power, as opposed to an ideal democracy, meaning "the rule of the people." In its modern use, it is often charged with connotations of selfishness and corruption.
Uncanny things unsettle us. They are mysterious and frightening in a way that feels oddly familiar, yet out of place.
Early essays about the uncanny phenomenon focus on dolls and waxworks, and how unsettling their inanimate lifelikeness can often be. However, with the advent of AI-generated videos and images, the phrase "uncanny valley" has found renewed relevance in this day and age.
Strip "uncanny" of its negative prefix and you'll be left with "canny." While, in their modern sense, both words are not necessarily antonyms, they both stem from the early Scottish canny, "free from risk, prudent, or cautious." Today, "canny" is used to describe someone or something shrewd or clever.
A borrowed word from French, blasé is an adjective that describes someone who, through repeated exposition, has become bored and apathetic toward stimuli. It sometimes implies a degree of practical knowledge or wisdom and, in this sense, it could be applied to a seasoned adventurer who no longer fears the dangers of the road ahead. However, blasé is often used ironically to describe people who try to appear experienced by feigning apathy.
Similes and metaphors are figures of speech that are used to compare one thing to another. When using similes, the comparison is made explicit by the use of words such as "like" or "as." "You are as bright as the sun" is a simile because it uses connectors to point out similarities.
"Life is a stage," on the other hand, is a metaphor. Metaphors are stronger comparisons that renounce connectors and directly equate one thing to another. The characteristics of one thing "carry over" –from the Greek meta, "across, over," and pherō, "to bear, to carry"– to the other one.