College students are still looking up words


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — When college students hit the campus each September, believe it or not, they turn to the dictionary.

As students head back to class each fall they encounter words that suddenly feel important — abstract academic terms, buzzwords around campus, concrete warnings about academic honesty — and turn to the dictionary.

So, every year, Merriam-Webster Inc. predicts this year’s “Big Words on Campus,” based on historic lookup data at


The biggest spike in lookups every September is culture.

“Culture is a term used in course names, textbook titles, and syllabus headings. It is perhaps the word that best encapsulates what is meant today by higher education: a single word that can encompass what we study and why we study it,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large.

“A generation ago many courses of study were oriented toward analysis of “the individual and society,” but today everything from classical Greek to sports nutrition to manga seems to reflect ‘culture.'”

Diversity is another word that rises to the top of dictionary lookups. Colleges and universities pride themselves on the quality, claiming that diversity enriches the educational experience and prepares students for the future.

Hope they’re listening

Plagiarize is an inescapable word on campus, and dictionary lookups spike every September.

Meaning “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own,” the forbidden act is warned against during orientation, in syllabi, and by professors on the first day of class.

Lookups for specific terms used in course descriptions — such as pedagogy , rhetoric , aesthetic , and heuristic — see an increase in traffic as the school year begins.

And once homework is assigned, and students begin analyzing texts and literature, they turn to the dictionary to fully understand the meaning of abstract terms like irony, metaphor, and allegory.


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