Dictionary.com Picks 'Woman' as 2022 Word of the Year After Searches Doubled amid 'Consequential Moments'

"Woman" and its definition were both at the center of various significant moments globally over the last 12 months, according to John Kelly, Senior Director of Editorial at Dictionary.com

roe v. wade
Protestors face off outside the Supreme Court after a draft opinion stating the intention to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Dictionary.com has selected the word "woman" as its Word of the Year for 2022, PEOPLE can exclusively reveal.

The word was selected in part because its typical annual search volume doubled over the last 12 months, according to a press release shared Tuesday by the website.

"Woman" and its definition were both at the center of various "consequential moments, discussions, and decisions in our society" in 2022, leading to the selection, according to John Kelly, Senior Director of Editorial at Dictionary.com.

Selecting "woman" as our Word of the Year, he says, "provides an acknowledgement of the gravity of the various events affecting women in 2022."

"From our perspective as observers and recorders of language change, the word 'woman' is a prime example of the many gender terms undergoing shifts in how and to whom they're applied." Kelly tells PEOPLE.

"Our selection of 'woman' as our 2022 Word of the Year reflects how gender, identity, and language are shaping our current cultural conversation — and how it shapes much of our work as a dictionary," he adds.

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 17: Counter-protestors gather to support transgender swimmer Lia Thomas at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 17th, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Counter-protestors gather to support transgender swimmer Lia Thomas at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 17th, 2022. Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty

To select the Word of the Year, Kelly tells PEOPLE a word must see "a significant increase in searches" in the last year and "capture the major cultural themes and trends in language that helped define" that time.

Though selecting a word can be difficult, Kelly tells PEOPLE that this year's selection process was actually "easy." In fact, he says it was "the swiftest and most decisive" selection since the tradition began.

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And it's easy to understand why. Women have been at the forefront of some of the year's biggest stories and headlines, both in the United States and across the globe.

Searches reached their highest point — more than 1,400% above normal — when Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked about the definition of a woman during a confirmation hearing in March, according to Tuesday's press release.

"The prominence of the question and the attention it received demonstrate how issues of transgender identity and rights are now frequently at the forefront of our national discourse," Kelly tells PEOPLE.

U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson (C) meets staff members of Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) (R) on Capitol Hill April 04, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting today to hold a vote on the nomination of Jackson. If approved by the committee, the full Senate is expected to vote later this week.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty

Major news in women's sports — including the "likely" retirement of Serena Williams, the settlement reached in the U.S. women's national soccer team's equal pay lawsuit, and the detention of WNBA star Brittany Griner in Russia — led to a surge in searches for the word as well.

Women's rights issues — such as the Supreme Court's ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, and the ongoing protests in Iran — have also resulted in additional searches for "woman," Kelly says.

"From our perspective as a dictionary, it's a big deal when a word like 'woman' rises to the top of our conversations and concerns in our society," Kelly tells PEOPLE.

Women hold signs and chant slogans during a protest over the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini outside the Iranian Consulate on September 29, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey. Mahsa Amini fell into a coma and died after being arrested in Tehran by the morality police, for allegedly violating the countries hijab rules. Amini's death has sparked weeks of violent protests across Iran.
Protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Istanbul, Turkey. Chris McGrath/Getty

Kelly tells PEOPLE that "words have power," as do their definitions. And with language "constantly evolving," he says it's important for Dictionary.com "to keep up with these changes by documenting and describing them in our dictionary"

"The dictionary is not the last word on what defines a woman," Kelly explains. "The word belongs to each and every woman — however they define themselves."

Words that made this year's shortlist Word of the Year include the Ukraine flag emoji; inflation"; "quiet quitting"; "democracy"; and "Wordle," which was added to the dictionary in 2022.

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