04 Jan 2016

Wordset Word of the Year 2015

Hampton Catlin

Since launching the site last year, we’ve had people look up over 97,786,582 words. That’s truly staggering. And, since it’s the time of the year that every other dictionary seems to pick a word of the year, we thought we should get into the act ourselves.

How does one pick a word to represent a whole year? First, we looked at the top 10 words looked up over the year and according to our data, some of the most looked up words this year have been “hello,” “dick,” and “cunt.” Not sure we are going to pick those for the coveted word of the year. (Note: This inspired the community to go re-write those entries, since people seem enthralled with them.)

The word caliphate was in the list and it shone there like a great linguistic gem! The scene became so clear to us… our users are watching the news or reading an article about ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh and the word caliphate came up, and they wondered what it actually meant. And, they chose us to provide that answer!

For those who are curious, a caliphate is a form of government headed by a caliph, who is considered an ultimate authority and the personal representation of Muhammed. It’s kind of like a serious theocratic despot state.

The word caliph actually comes from خَلِيف ḵalīf which means “successor” in Arabic. Which, makes sense, because the whole theory of a caliph’s authority is that they are the successor to Muhammed. It’s kind of like how in Catholicism, the Pope is considered the direct successor to Peter. Similar concept for the papist out there.

There have been many different caliphates and califs throughout time. But, there actually hasn’t been a caliphate declared since the 1920’s, until recently. This word was banished to the “archaic” label and was the domain of historians, until a band of medievalist decided to give it another try.

Also, caliphate is the root of a word that you probably use all the time. It’s an English proper noun that is actually part of American government… that’s right, we have our own caliphate in the USA!

In 1510, in Seville Spain, an author by the name of Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo published a book titled “The Adventures of Esplandián” (“Las sergas de Esplandián”), a romance and adventure book about traveling to North America, and finding an island of beautiful black women ruled by Queen Calafia, where sex was open and not taboo. The name of this fictional island was California. Literally, caliph + fornication (not just the title of a TV show).

When explorers discovered the Baja Peninsula (they thought it might be an island), they started referring to it as California. That’s right, the richest and most populous state in this nation (also the home of Wordset) is named after a sleezy Spanish novel. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_California)

Now, let’s go make that drawing of Muhammed...