This social justice buzzword is Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year

Dictionary.com has chosen a term new to its online reference service for its Word of the Year — a word that, it says, “acts as a powerful prism through which to view the defining events and experiences of 2021.”

“Allyship” is Dictionary.com’s 2021 Word of the Year, the online dictionary announced Monday. It’s the first time, Dictionary.com said, that a word has been named the year’s top term the same year it was added to the dictionary.

The online dictionary defines “allyship” as “the status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.”

This year, the word was increasingly used in reference to Black and LGBTQ people, DIctionary.com reported, as well as for parents working and handling child care during the pandemic, health care workers, teachers and airline employees.

“Shows of support and advocacy for these groups in 2021 point to ways in which the term allyship is giving name to ever more nuanced ideas of social justice and is increasingly being extended to contexts of support outside of racial, gender, and sexual identity, such as disability and economic status,” Dictionary.com said.

The website chose “allyship” based on search trends throughout 2021 as well as the year’s “major themes,” it said. “Allyship” was one of the top 850 search terms that steered online users toward the site in 2021, Dictionary.com said, often searched with the word “workplace” as companies publicly pledged to invest in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

But the word most often searched along with “allyship” was “performative,” according to the online reference service. “Performative allyship” describes someone thought to be “‘playing the part’ of being an ally instead of actually supporting the people they claim to,” Dictionary.com said.

Related words also in the running for Dictionary.com’s top term were “critical race theory,” “burnout” and ‘vaccine,” the last of which was chosen as Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year.

“Allyship” was added to Dictionary.com this year, but the first recorded use of its root, “ally,” dates back to around 1250-1300, the online dictionary said in a blog post, derived from the Latin word “alligāre,” which means to “bind together, combine, unite.” The word “allyship” has been used since the mid-1800s, Dictionary.com said.

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