SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - As Greece faced a debt crisis, the government passed strict austerity measures, including tax hikes and cuts in public-sector pay.
That sparked angry protests, strikes, and riots as Greek unemployment skyrocketed and the crisis spread to other European nations. It also incited a rush of people checking online dictionaries for the definition of austerity.
The 14th-century noun, defined as "the quality or state of being austere" and "enforced or extreme economy," set off enough searches that Merriam-Webster named it its Word of the Year for 2010, the dictionary's editors announced Monday.
John Morse, the dictionary's president and publisher, said austerity triggered more than 250,000 searches on its free online tool.
Runners-up included pragmatic, moratorium, socialism, and bigot - with interest in the last word resulting from public uses by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former CNN host Rick Sanchez, and former NPR senior analyst Juan Williams.
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor-at-large, said this year's top-10 words were associated with news events or coverage, which editors believe resulted in prolonged jumps in searches.
For example, socialism was searched, editors believe, because of coverage of federal bailouts and the Democratic-backed health-care legislation. And editors noticed that pragmatic was looked up a number of times after the midterm elections.
Rounding out the top-10 list were doppelganger, shellacking, ebullient, dissident, and furtive.