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Dictionary.com’s “2021 Word of the Year” is here, and it’s surprisingly perfect

Dictionary.com has officially announced its 2021 Word of the Year, and that word is:


Despite the plethora of divisive stories this year — the debates over vaccines, gun safety, education, abortion, the validity of conspiracy theories — that word has prevailed in our collective consciousness. And that alone points to something far more uplifting: what matters most to people is helping each other.

Arising out of “covenant” (meaning the “merger of efforts or interests of persons, families, states, or organizations,” according to Dictionary.com), “covenant” n was added to the platform only a month before winning the 2021 title. And this year alone, it was in the top 850 searches on thousands and thousands of words, and its frequency of use jumped 700% since 2020.

Dictionary.com gives two different definitions:

ally (noun)

1. actively advocates and works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society but is not a member of that group, and acts in solidarity with their struggle and point of view and under their direction .

2. the relationship of persons, groups or nations associating and cooperating with each other for a common cause or purpose.

At first glance, “the covenant” might seem better suited for 2020, following the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. And with searing headlines of political divisiveness, pessimistic outlooks on the pandemic, and an overall dismal public view of humanity, “the alliance” seems… a less than optimal choice. Did they consider the “vaccine” as Merriam Webster did? Or “variant”? And “Delta”? Do these options better reflect the times?

Associate Director of Content and Education John Kelly noted, “It might be a surprising choice for some,” but “over the past few decades the term has evolved to take on a more nuanced and specific meaning. It continues to evolve and we have seen it in many ways.

Allyship has now expanded to frontline workers, teachers and parents who have gained support and advocacy during the pandemic.

“This year, we have seen many high-profile, publicly visible companies and organizations begin efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. The alliance is linked to this. In the classroom, there is a flashpoint around the term “critical race theory”. Allyship ties into that as well,” Kelly said.

The site also noted how an authentic, non-performative covenant theme was at the center of many “defining new stories of 2021” that have had a lasting positive impact, from Simone Biles and athlete mental health to the Great Resignation and Professional exhaustion.

“These events were remarkable not only in themselves, of course, but also because of how we largely responded to and discussed through the prism of who has a voice, who deserves empathy, and who and what is valued. It was a lens ally,” according to Dictionary.com.

When the world is looked at through this lens, perhaps the path to 2022 is more compassionate and collaborative than our fears indicate. And maybe we can take a higher view of what it means to be an ally. Ultimately, we could all use a few more friends and a few fewer enemies.

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