The Merriam-Webster Word of the Year for 2021 is a Defeated Sigh

Every year, our panel of experts at Merriam-Webster discuss candidates for word of the year and choose a winner that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance. This word should be common and well known, a term that reflects the year that was and has left an indelible mark on our society. This year’s winner is one that you may have heard a lot over the last 12 months: A Defeated Sigh.

This marks the first time that a sound has won word of the year, however it became clear in our media review and random polling that this sound dominated 2021. In our poll, we asked 5,000 people to provide one word that summarized 2021, and while we got 934 different words, 95% of responses started with a defeated sigh. In fact, 221 respondents responded only with a defeated sigh. Other common responses that were finalists included “Fuck”, “Seriously?” and a thousand-yard stare.

The etymology of the defeated sigh goes back to the Paleolithic era, when a caveman first stepped in mastodon poop. While it’s remained in the human lexicon, its usage increased over time, particularly over the last three years. Last year, Merriam-Webster updated its definition of defeated sigh to:

Defeated Sigh noun

  1. Just look around at this shit
  2. I mean, are you fucking kidding me?

Few words can truly convey so much about one moment in time. Congratulations to a defeated sigh! While this is the first year a sound has won word of the year, we have a feeling it isn’t the last, as early polling is showing that curling up into a ball and crying is a frontrunner for 2022.

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