“Justice” is Word of the Year — 2018

Merriam-Webster claims justice: so shall we

It’s 1:30pm and today I have seen no fewer than three word-of-the-year articles on the front page of Medium. Considering that, this is mid-December, I’ll expect to see a few more as I check my front page here at the site. The highlighted players this morning:

“Why grieve is the word of the year”

“Why risk is the word of the year”

“Why moments is the word of the year”, and so on.

I’m with all that, so won’t create a new one from my stock of shocks in 2018. Instead, I find it apt to focus on Merriam-Webster’s choice for the WOTY title. They’ve done the research. Due to a number of variables, “justice” was the most terminologically sought-after definition via internet.


Look at it^. It’s a beautiful word, with one of the prettiest letters leading its implied cause. So beautiful, as a word and an idea, that parents and caretakers have named babies Justice to the tune of 562 individuals, in the United States alone. Justice is both a surname and a given name, used for both male and female persons . . . and probably a significant number of pets and animals.

Middle English in origin, Justice served simply as a nickname for “a fair-minded man” until about the latter Middle Ages. In fact, many surnames began as nicknames but morphed into family-establishment monikers for a couple of primary reasons:

  • population growth (distinction among numerous individuals)
  • migration necessity (geographical politics)

Social status at one time was a sure bet with a name like justice, presumably.

Note Justinian’s crowning near the beginning of the Middle Ages — PD Slide via Claire James and SlideShare. Look through each of her ten slides for a solid grasp of the time frame. Justinian, in this early use of the Latin lustinianus (just, fair), was the name of the 6th-century Byzantine emperor who attempted to restore borders of the Roman Empire.

If there is success to be had in a name, then we might think it was advantageous for Donald Justice that he’d carried it, for he lived as a poet and teacher in America and led education for the likes of Mark Strand — premiere poet and author of prose.

An Intro to Donald Justice via SOUNDCLOUD

Perhaps it was fortunate as well for no fewer than six famous sports figures and an actress with either a first or last name of Justice. These represent only a portion of famous-name Justices and, if we delve into spellings like Justus, there will be more.


Like a tandem dance routine in an epic presentation of the works of the damned and the righteous, we can chalk up recent popularity of the word “justice” not to the positive meaning behind the term, but to the negative. Not lost on many is the fact that our newest Justice of the Supreme Court made big news on the bleak front as a candidate for the supreme position, which he eventually won despite looming questions of justice in his name. The result? In the news today, “Dozens of ‘serious’ conduct complaints dismissed . . . because he was confirmed to the Supreme Court.” Apparently, we cast ideals of justice aside when people ‘win’ ahead of judgement. I suppose it’s not really newsy at all, because:

  • Judging isn’t justice. We knew that. (“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”)
  • Winning isn’t justice, necessarily. Well, we knew that, too. (It isn’t everything, but it may be the only thing.)
  • Winners often aren’t judged, and they may not be just. But we knew that, as well, didn’t we? (Suspicion is like the rain. It falls on the just and on the unjust.” -Mary Roberts Rinehart)

Probably the main reason that justice is Merriam-Webster’s top word of the year for 2018 is due to the fact that many sought the exact definition of the term that defined not only the job wanted by an accused assaulter but also the meaning of the thing sought after by his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. Certainly “Justice Brett Kavanaugh” isn’t the kind of justice she had hoped would turn out. Truly seems there was nothing to be done at this late date, in this case.

That in such a climate of injustice as we seem to grapple with today in general, that the tread upon among us longingly seek “justice” in our general searches for life’s answers is a close second to the main reason for the high incidence search queries overall, never mind those couple of Kavanaugh months.

Justice: a term with theoretical implications and implied meaning that never goes out of style.

PD image, source unknown.

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Word of the Year: Justice, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year-2018-justice (last retrieved Dec. 17, 2018.)

Justice, https://www.names.org/n/justice/about (last retrieved Dec. 18, 2018.)

Justice, http://www.babynamewizard.com/baby-name/girl/justice (last retrieved Dec. 17, 2018).