SPRINGFIELD, MASS. When the U.S. House admonished Rep. Joe Wilson for shouting “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a health care speech to Congress, it not only lit up talk show lines, but also sent many people scurrying to the Internet in search of a definition.
Admonish, a verb dating to the 14th century meaning “to express warning or disapproval in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner,” generated enough curiosity to crown it Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2009.
It beat out several other finalists that emerged from what the dictionary publisher’s editor at large, Peter Sokolowski, called the “intersection of news and vocabulary.”
Runners-up announced Thursday included inaugurate, pandemic, furlough and rogue — the latter tied to Sarah Palin and the sole carryover from the 2008 list.
Virtually all the words were associated with a news event or coverage and resulted in a prolonged spike of look-ups on the dictionary offered online for free by Merriam-Webster, based in Springfield, Mass.
“Words that make up this list are words that jumped and stayed up there,” Sokolowski said. “Even if the word was no longer on the front page of the newspaper, it was still something that people were blogging about or reading about online.”
“Admonish” shot to the top in part because it was used at several stages of the story — originally to describe the reaction to Wilson’s outburst, then to the editorial reaction, and finally to the official House resolution admonishing the South Carolina Republican.
Dictionary users may have been seeking to distinguish shades of meaning from synonyms such as “scold” or “rebuke,” Sokolowski said. Those terms suggest a harsher tone, while “admonish” suggests a decidedly more genteel response.