The 50 Most-Looked-Up Words from NYTimes.com

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The New York Times has an online feature that allows users to get dictionary definitions of words within feature articles. Just double-click a word, a question mark appears, click that, and you get a definition. Now they've crunched the numbers and revealed the 50 most-looked-up words of 2010 so far. You can see the top 20 above, but there's a catch -- one of those words was coined by a mischievous writer at the Times. Can you figure out which one it is?

From the article analyzing the results:

We all have blind spots in our vocabulary. Going through the list without benefit of context, I'll admit — somewhat reluctantly — that there were at least two words for which I couldn't formulate coherent definitions: "démarche" ("a line of action; move or countermove") and "cynosure" ("a person or thing that is a center of attention or interest"). I might have been able to puzzle them out in context, but standing alone, they stumped me.

For some reason "cynosure" (which can be pronounced with a short or long vowel sound in the first syllable) seems to be crosswired in my brain with the completely unrelated "sinecure" ("an office or position providing income but requiring little work").

Perhaps the Greek roots would help me figure out "cynosure"? No, not this time: it comes from the Greek for "dog's tail." So how did it acquire its current meaning? Apparently "the Dog's Tail" is what we now call the Little Dipper, the constellation that includes the North Star. Thus the "center of attention or interest."

Read the rest for more analysis. You can check out the Top 50 as a Google Spreadsheet or a PDF.

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June 10, 2010 - 9:06am
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