2021 Word of the Year is “Insurrection”

The American Dialect Society, in its 32nd annual words-of-the-year vote, selected “insurrection” as the Word of the Year for 2021. While the selection is typically held in person at the society’s annual meeting, for the second year in a row the event was conducted as a webinar open to all who were interested in attending via Zoom. More than three hundred attendees took part in the deliberations and voting.

Presiding at the Jan. 7 voting session was Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal

“More than a year after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the nation is still coming to grips with what happened that day,” Zimmer said. “At the time, words like coup, sedition, and riot were used to describe the disturbing events at the Capitol, but insurrection – a term for a violent attempt to take control of the government – is the one that many felt best encapsulates the threat to democracy experienced that day. The lasting effects of that insurrection will be felt for years to come.”

Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year. 

The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion. 

Members in the 132-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead, they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.

Read the full press release, including all winners, candidates, and vote tallies for all candidates.

All previous years’ winners are listed here.