Integrity Is Word Of The Year

carousel, U.S. Central Commander Gen. David Petraeus is surrounded by staff after appearing to pass out on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 15, 2010, while testifing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
CBS
In a year filled with political wrangling, natural disasters and pop culture curiosities, Americans turned to Merriam-Webster to help define it all.

Filibuster. Refugee. Tsunami. Each was among the dictionary publisher's 10 most frequently looked-up words among some 7 million users of its online site.

But topping the list is a word that some say gives insight into the country's collective concern about its values: Integrity.

The noun, formally defined as a "firm adherence to a code" and "incorruptibility," has always been a popular one on the Springfield-based company's Web site, said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. But this year, the true meaning of integrity seemed to be of extraordinary concern. About 200,000 people sought its definition online.

"I think the American people have isolated a very important issue for our society to be dealing with," Morse said. "The entire list gives us an interesting window that opens up into what people are thinking about in their lives."

Ralph Whitehead, a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts, said it may indicate the continuing discussion about American values and morality, or perhaps that integrity itself is becoming scarce so its definition is unfamiliar.

"You hope integrity is a word everyone understands," he said.