Why Privacy Is Our 2013 Word of the Year

Word of the Year, Privacy

From PRISM and the Edward Snowden scandal to the arrival of Google Glass, 2013 was the year that the desire to be seen and heard was turned on its head. Consider the following: In January, the TSA scrapped airport body scanners that produce near-naked images of travelers; In June, Edward Snowden revealed the widespread global-spying program, Project PRISM; In October, Google announced new privacy policy plans that allow the company to incorporate user data into advertisements. The discussion of privacy – what it is and what it isn’t – embodies the preeminent concerns of 2013. For this reason, privacy is Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year.

Privacy is defined as “the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one’s private life and affairs.” The distinction between private and public predates the English language. In Ancient Rome, privatus and publicus were juxtaposed terms that distinguished that which belongs to the state (publicus) from that which belongs to the individual (privatus).

Now there are more variables in the equation: corporations collecting user data and millions of individuals with recording devices. Many of us have embraced social media, choosing to volunteer intimate particulars and personal photographs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; this robust participation echoes an observation by Mark Zuckerberg in 2010 that the public’s comfort level with sharing personal information online is a “social norm” that has “evolved over time.” Even so, a recent survey by Harris Poll shows that young people are now monitoring and changing their privacy settings more than ever, a development that USA Today dubbed the “Edward Snowden effect.” In her eloquent and extensive history of the right to privacy in The New Yorker, Jill Lepore summarized these seemingly at-odds impulses surrounding privacy as “the paradox of an American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity.”

On a global scale, early December saw the release of an open letter, signed by more than 500 world-renowned writers, urging the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights. They highlighted the individual’s right “to remain unobserved and unmolested” in “thoughts, personal environments, and communications.” One of the signatories, Jeannette Winterson, asserts, “Privacy is an illusion. Do you mind about that? I do.” But the conversation doesn’t stop at the level of the individual; the very companies that the public feels a growing distrust for face their own higher-level privacy battles. Also in December, Apple, Google, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo! signed a petition to the federal government beseeching them to impose limits on the government’s power to collect user data. As Shel Israel lays out in Forbes, in this digital age “trust will become the new currency,” and corporations are acutely aware of this.

As the discussion unfolds, we are scrutinizing what privacy means today, and in so doing, we wonder, does the definition of privacy need another clause? From whose intrusion do we want to be free? The government’s? Foreign governments’? Corporations’? Other individuals’? All of the above? The answer is the missing puzzle piece that we are deciding on together as the wavering definition of privacy solidifies.

What were the major events this year about privacy? Get them in our infographic.

And what was our Word of the Year in 2012? Find out.


  1. Sibyl Trapani -  June 27, 2016 - 6:59 am

    Excellent commentary ! I loved the specifics – Does anyone know where my assistant can get a sample CA CDC 106 copy to type on ?

  2. Esmma -  December 28, 2014 - 10:10 pm

    The word of 2014 should be tiresome. It has been a hard tedious year… With all the crap going on around the world i doubt its coming close to the end… Maybe the word of the decade, lets hope not century.

    • You -  April 14, 2015 - 8:26 am

      If there is another decade. You never know- maybe mother nature will finally have had enough of our crap and decide to drive humanity to extinction, which, quite frankly, would be doing the world a huge favor.

  3. Luna Bloom -  December 2, 2014 - 7:07 am

    Every year the word should be ‘Beautiful’
    Just cause the beauty of our world is fading cause of people trashing and aren’t keeping up with they’re garbage.

    Let’s just call the world beautiful. All day everyday. and help keep the world amazing

    • You -  April 14, 2015 - 8:26 am

      Yeah, you’re right. If we just ignore all of the world’s problems, they’ll just fix themselves, right?

  4. zinna -  December 1, 2014 - 6:04 am

    Racism should be chosen as the 2014 word of the year. That’s all I’ve seen this year was conflict amongst Africans American.

  5. jinggo -  November 26, 2014 - 6:53 am

    I nominate the word of the year to be CLIMATE
    Because its happening all over the world,climate change,catastropic all over,no country is spared before you can only hear. common pkaces that is being hit but this year its all over the continents…almost everday earthquake,flood,storms,hurricane

  6. Jim -  November 25, 2014 - 4:52 pm

    Chaos is the word for 2014.
    No honor nor respect for America’s Constitution, Congress and Senate, the American people, total ineptitude for foreign policy. His racist political views.And his detested view of the American people. Our government is in non working Chaos

  7. MR -  November 17, 2014 - 11:31 am

    The word of the year should be ACCOUNTABILITY. There is not enough of it! Not from government, corporations, religious institutions, law enforcement and all individuals (young and old).

  8. hemanth kumar -  November 13, 2014 - 7:01 pm

    2014 is year of “Big Change”

    • Anne Keeble -  November 17, 2014 - 1:10 am

      The word of 2014 should be Selfishness or something similar…yes there are good people and groups, yes many try to help but the minority who weird the power globally encourage selfishness and greed….There is no longer any need for people to starve; for have and have nots but our world continues to exist on greed and corruption

      • Esmma -  December 28, 2014 - 10:16 pm

        Yes thats because it’s not ‘minority’ it’s ‘majority’. The majority (or big greedy corrupt leaders) is selfish

  9. Promise -  September 24, 2014 - 1:28 pm

    2013 is the past so look into the 2014 life. Privacy isn’t anything these days, Thats my 2 cents but any one who wants to disqus, tell me.

  10. 3 Tips for Private Web Browsing on Android | XSLab -  February 25, 2014 - 7:59 pm

    [...] virtually every browser available for Android. ‘Privacy’ is the word of the year, according to Dictionary.com, and there are many legitimate reasons why you may want to browse the web privately. Private [...]

  11. Bloodbred -  January 20, 2014 - 7:40 pm

    Great choice for the word of the year. Who would have ever thought that the battle for personal privacy would boil down to the differences between normal people and egotists, narcissists and stalkers?

    • Malik Bertwright -  November 16, 2014 - 9:11 am

      I wonder what is the word of the year for 2014

  12. yolo -  January 15, 2014 - 5:19 pm

    wolf tamer and tree puncher is awesome because he plays MINECRAFT anyone who plays MINECRAFT is awesome

  13. yolo -  January 15, 2014 - 5:17 pm

    I think the word of the year should of been yolo because every one of my friend would always say “YOLO DUDE YOLO” 4 times a day

    • You -  April 14, 2015 - 8:28 am

      I think you represent why the word of the year should be either ‘stupid’ or ‘stupidity’.

  14. Ed Moriarty -  January 11, 2014 - 9:19 am

    Those who repeat the often used “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” are the kool-aid drinkers of the digital age. That kind of thinking is very short sighted and based on unrealistic assumptions.

  15. Words of 2013 round-up | OUPblog -  January 10, 2014 - 5:58 am

    [...] Dictionary.com selected ‘privacy’ because of its role in many major stories this year from the NSA’s PRISM program to how data is collected via social media. [...]

  16. Baba -  January 9, 2014 - 4:29 am


  17. Baba -  January 9, 2014 - 4:28 am

    Privacy is a good word

  18. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 30, 2013 - 3:53 am

    I think “privacy” is a word my 9-year-old brother needs to learn the meaning of. ;)

    BTW, I found out how to breed horses – use a golden apple.

  19. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 25, 2013 - 11:50 pm

    Merry Christmas everybody!

  20. Vía Tecnológica | Resumen tecnológico 2013 -  December 23, 2013 - 9:48 pm

    [...] la privacidad. No es coincidencia que dictionary.com haya elegido “privacidad” como la palabra del año por encima de vocablos tan usados como “twerking” (cortesía de Miley Cyrus) y selfie, [...]

  21. [...] on cell phones to share on social media (Even Obama does it ). Which makes a nice ironic twist for Dictionary.com’s word of the year: “privacy.” I’d argue that “Big Data”—where Selfie and Privacy duke it out—is one of [...]

  22. Husain -  December 23, 2013 - 2:31 am

    Well done perfect selection

  23. Amy F -  December 22, 2013 - 5:52 pm

    At least the word of the year is not selfie

  24. Mateo -  December 22, 2013 - 4:15 pm

    To Marianne, a few comments down from mine, in response to your “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” statement: Would it be okay with you if the TSA placed spycams in your home above your toilet and shower head? I mean, as long as you aren’t strangling puppies or cooking meth in there, why not?!

    See how ridiculous that sounds? The same principle should apply in our digital lives. Across the board. Or should I say ‘screen’…

  25. cow -  December 21, 2013 - 3:58 pm


  26. cow -  December 21, 2013 - 3:58 pm


  27. Vickie Dailey -  December 21, 2013 - 10:38 am

    This is a very well written piece and I agree with the decision to use the word ‘Privacy’ for the Word of the Year. Thank you for writing it and congrats on doing a good job of summarizing a complex and difficult issue. One further word: While today people often want to be seen and heard, they also want to decide what is seen and what is heard and not be spied on. So yes, We are “at once, [wanting to be] seen [while] being hidden,” and it is “a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity.” But think for a minute and realize that the individual should have the ability to decide what is seen and what is hidden.

    Thank you.

  28. Brian Davidson -  December 20, 2013 - 5:25 pm

    Quote Marianne: “You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. If you don’t want people looking at your personal information, get off the internet.”

    So we have to all live like hermits? And if you’re not concerned about privacy, why do you have curtains in your windows? Why don’t you have your toilet in the front yard for everybody to see you? You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide; isn’t that right?

    On the article, privacy is a good choice for word of the year. I can’t wait to see a high profile person suing Facebook for the improper use of their name in advertising. I hope Facebook loses big time.

  29. mell42 -  December 19, 2013 - 1:38 pm

    This is a very well-written essay and piece on why ‘privacy’ was chosen as the word of the year. Thank you for such an informed response.

  30. Brian -  December 19, 2013 - 11:06 am

    This is rather hypocritical/ironic by Dictionary.com. If you use the Dictionary.com app on your smart phone, little do most people realize, all of your searches are by default pinpointed on a map under a section called “Trands” and “Local Lookups.” You actually have to ask for “privacy” because otherwise Dictionary.com thinks it’s fun to disclose to the world what words are searched for from your home, work, etc.
    Thanks for this post– I’ll call it a veiled attempt to hide the fact that you are part of the problem, Dictionary.com.

  31. Marianne -  December 19, 2013 - 9:52 am

    I don’t really see the problem. You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. If you don’t want people looking at your personal information, get off the internet.

  32. Martin -  December 19, 2013 - 5:04 am

    1) near naked body scanners are what is needed if we think safety if of legitimate import.
    2) Snowden’s move was, AND is bush league he ruined something that actually harmed no one,the world is a less safe place to be, thanks to Snowden’s self serving theft!
    3) Collection of all phone connections made between point and point is not a harmful matter, that archived & catalogued data gave our intel people the ability to go back to a certain point in time when a particular call of interest was originated to assist the intel community in stopping a.terrorist plot.
    4) you cannot have both security & the expectation of complete privacy, you have to trust.

  33. Richard.R -  December 19, 2013 - 1:37 am

    … *therefore governments and*…

  34. Richard.R -  December 19, 2013 - 1:33 am

    I am 15, use social media regularly and am also aware of the discussions and debates on online privacy. The idea of governments and businesses having access to my personal information and knowing my web-surfing habits makes me quite uncomfortable. I actually despise the idea of personalised advertising! Meanwhile I am more than happy to share stories and pictures of my life on social networks. This may seem hypocritical or contradictory, but the fundamental difference, in my opinion is that I am friends with all the people on my social networking sites. I know them on a personal level and we all have a mutually friendly relationship. Therefore I trust the people on my social networks with the personal information I choose to share. Anyone, or anything else that has access to my information, habits and interests are invaders of my privacy. I do not trust corporations and I feel they don’t need to know anything about me. I give consent to share my information with my friends, not businesses, and therefore they governments and businesses having access to my personal information is wrong and should be illegal.

  35. Natasha Glassman -  December 19, 2013 - 12:11 am

    Don’t forget the privacy issues with the Common Core State Standards! Many people are upset about data mining, standardized testing & recording/tracking of this data.

  36. Patrick Campbell -  December 18, 2013 - 5:43 pm

    I had my money on sequestration, but it is no privation to lose out to the far more apt privacy.

  37. Anthony G -  December 18, 2013 - 4:38 pm

    it should have been ejaculation

  38. ## #yolo #life -  December 18, 2013 - 3:24 pm

    privacy is up there I see why it is #1

  39. Busymomof4 -  December 18, 2013 - 3:01 pm

    AFFLUENZA is my new word of the year….I’ve learned it means: Get out of JAIL free!

  40. [...] A couple weeks ago, the Oxford English Dictionary announced “selfie” as the word of the year. While “selfie” may have been a popular buzzword this year, along with twerk and hashtag, according to Dictionary.com, privacy was a preeminent concern in 2013. For this reason, Dictionary.com chose “privacy” as the 2013 word of the year. [...]

  41. [...] A couple weeks ago, the Oxford English Dictionary announced “selfie” as the word of the year. While “selfie” may have been a popular buzzword this year, along with twerk and hashtag, according to Dictionary.com, privacy was a preeminent concern in 2013. For this reason, Dictionary.com chose “privacy” as the 2013 word of the year. [...]

  42. Rey -  December 18, 2013 - 8:38 am

    I think privacy is a good word, I’m in health care, and we are very respectful on everyone’s privacy or confidentiality.

  43. Ansar -  December 18, 2013 - 8:02 am

    I am in total agreement for the word of the year chosen. Privacy is the very fabric of civility. Thanks. Ansar.

  44. Pferraro88 -  December 18, 2013 - 8:00 am

    In degree of importance, yes
    popularity,no. frequency?

  45. memyself -  December 18, 2013 - 7:12 am

    Why do you use such a washed out type set? I can hardly read the letters. Referring to the amazing accomplishments of our hero, Edward Snowden, as a “Snowden scandal” is most unfortunate. “The NSA scandal” would be more accurate and appropriate. But I do agree with your choice of the word “privacy” as the word of the year.

  46. Ernest Junius -  December 18, 2013 - 5:29 am

    Charles, ‘turned on its head’ means to change completely

  47. Kelsy Sky -  December 18, 2013 - 4:09 am

    A word which everybody should keep

  48. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 18, 2013 - 3:06 am

    It means that nobody wanted to be seen and heard anymore. “Turned on its head” means it became the opposite.

    I wanted to ask, but couldn’t find you, and now I found you, so now I can – wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Do you know how to breed horses in Minecraft? My horse, Dusty, is really fast, so I want to breed him and maybe get more fast horses. Thanks in advance if you know. Oh, and could you please tell me your email address so we can talk thru email rather than Dictionary.com? Thanks.

  49. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 18, 2013 - 2:04 am

    @(Since word is privacy no looking):
    Ha ha, that’s funny. WolfQuest is a free computer game where you play as a wolf. You can either find a mate and raise puppies, or have a pack made up of other players. It’s one of my favorite games. The link to their website is http://www.wolfquest.net (if you can’t click on it, just type it into your search bar or Google “wolfquest.” That will come up with a lot of good game videos taken by WolfQuesters, as well as the website).

    You’re back! I’m so happy! :D :D Have you been busy? I’ve finished my palace in Minecraft and I’m working on the dungeon now. I’ve got big plans…I’m going to have cities all over the world

  50. James -  December 18, 2013 - 1:35 am

    Good choice. Far more intelligent, important and relevant than ‘selfie’

  51. Wesley -  December 18, 2013 - 1:16 am


    The sentence you mentioned, “2013 was the year that the desire to be seen and heard was turned on its head”, is a literary device. It is meant to catch your attention by dislodging you from what is a common and unquestioned perception. Further, the author uses the metaphor “turned on its head” to indicate the premise of the article to follow; which is to say that the author is letting you know that the year 2013 showed an opposing expression to the belief that Americans want “to be seen and heard”.

  52. Wesley -  December 18, 2013 - 1:00 am

    I will go with privacy. They make a strong argument for the privacy theme being a poignant concern in American culture.

  53. Jennifer -  December 18, 2013 - 12:33 am

    Could you send that to Big Brother? As they continue to spend billions to monitor emails, internet, mobile, etc… Where is privacy? I guess it is for our own good right? That sounds familiar…. I seem to remember my mother telling me that when I was growing up and she just wanted me to ‘get in line’ so to speak. I guess we are just children who should obey, right?! Please… I know the government is doing these programs for the benefit of the nation; it scares me that the risk of abuse is so high with this new high tech system. The amount of data our government will be collecting on us each day ‘in the name of national security’ is more than any of us can imagine. There is no privacy anymore… not really. Our lives are lived on the internet, in the cloud, on the web. Think about how many transactions a month one has that are computer related, tied to personal information. Everything from utilities, to health care, banking, housing- rent or mortgage, insurance- home, life, health, auto, etc…, Social Security benefits, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid, etc… Everything is digital, tied to one’s SS #. I often think of the movie ‘The Net’, with Sandra Bullock. Identity theft… basically…powerful people wanted to get rid of her and they basically erased her from the national database… if one is not in the computer, one does not exist. We already put scan-chips in military personnel, how long before every baby that is born is injected with a UPC scan code? So much for privacy… I will move to a remote area before I am required to have a UPC scanner or tattoo scanner to purchase products or trade goods… Then there will be no more privacy at all. Not just tracking communiqué, then it will be tracking people. I am not a paranoid person, but I did read ‘Left Behind’ Series and that scared me.

  54. Debby yates-galindo -  December 17, 2013 - 11:52 pm

    What the heck is a minecrafter? Maybe IT can be your next word-of-the-day.

  55. Archibald Charles -  December 17, 2013 - 11:39 pm

    FUN FACT: In British English, the word is pronounced with the ‘i’ in ‘gift’, i.e. pre-vasy.

  56. Melissa -  December 17, 2013 - 9:41 pm

    Perfect word choice. And well done on the big corporations for trying to keep our information from being so easily accessed by the government.

  57. Leonel -  December 17, 2013 - 8:39 pm

    CARE should be the word of the year as in Obama CARE, affordable CARE act, California Health CARE, and I don’t CARE !!

  58. Bob Lollipop -  December 17, 2013 - 8:16 pm

    Guys, guys, guys. We all know what the word of the year is.


  59. harrypitts15 -  December 17, 2013 - 8:02 pm

    Charles, “turned on its head” means something like “totally changed”. In the past privacy wasn’t a concern. Today everyone is worried about privacy. That’s an example of something that is turned on its head.

  60. Deborah lee maciel -  December 17, 2013 - 6:37 pm

    Not a lot of privacy left

  61. Adam -  December 17, 2013 - 6:28 pm

    Hi Charles,

    “2013 was the year that the desire to be seen and heard was turned on its head”

    Let us simplify the sentence by breaking it into parts.

    ’2013 was the year that’ -> In 2013,

    ‘the desire to be seen and heard’ -> the want to be noticed (through being seen and heard)

    ‘was turned on its head; -> was reversed. (‘was turned on its head’ is an idiom. The definition of the phrase does not match the combined definitions of its words.)

    “In 2013, the want to be noticed was reversed.”

  62. [...] is going in a completely different direction for its choice. The popular online dictionary picked “privacy” as for its coveted “word of the year” honors, a decision it says was fueled by myriad news stories that focused on privacy. That list includes [...]

  63. alan -  December 17, 2013 - 6:05 pm

    good job~ this article makes me a lot of thinking.

  64. James Allan -  December 17, 2013 - 5:23 pm

    How ironic is this? You’ve chosen the word ‘privacy’ as the Word of the Year. However, to comment on this fact I am “REQUIRED” to first supply you with my name and email address. And that is the minimum, because you ask for my website as well. Isn’t it ironic – don’t you think? – Ms. Alanis Morrisette

  65. Charles -  December 17, 2013 - 5:23 pm

    Could anyone tell how to understand this sentence “2013 was the year that the desire to be seen and heard was turned on its head” ?
    Especially the phrase “turned on its head”. I’m just not so good at English. Thanks in advance.

  66. Zippity-Doo-Dah -  December 17, 2013 - 5:08 pm

    I find it strange that they chose privacy to represent the year and yet did not mention the NSA scandal.

  67. Fernando -  December 17, 2013 - 5:01 pm

    Word of the year:
    Selfie !

  68. Jay -  December 17, 2013 - 4:11 pm

    Great to see a real word finally edifing out ‘selfie’ and ‘twerk’

  69. sam -  December 17, 2013 - 4:09 pm

    Not a good choice. Oxford dictionary said the most common word used this year was selfy.

  70. stephen thorsell -  December 17, 2013 - 3:17 pm

    oh good, because i thought the word of the year would be twerk!! :P

  71. Maricela -  December 17, 2013 - 2:52 pm

    Doing great

  72. Nigga bones -  December 17, 2013 - 2:40 pm

    Word of the year

  73. Angalyssa -  December 17, 2013 - 2:38 pm

    I see it :) we are lost forever baby

  74. Dreamlight Ella -  December 17, 2013 - 1:36 pm

    “the paradox of an American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity.”

  75. Victor Nwandu -  December 17, 2013 - 1:19 pm

    In order to contro the world by any govt of today, privacy laws must be addressed properly. The govt and her citizens/ nations/ websites, companies, persons and individuals must come to agreement.

  76. Gordy Angster -  December 17, 2013 - 11:54 am

    Wow of all words?
    you choose privacy
    come on, be creative for once in your lives

  77. Marlina Rinzen -  December 17, 2013 - 11:41 am

    Your use of the word “scandal” when referring to Edward Snowden is misinforming, Edward Snowden is our national hero.

  78. (Since word is privacy no looking) -  December 17, 2013 - 9:29 am

    Minecrafter. But what is wolf quest and when you’re done send the link to me

  79. (Since word is privacy no looking) -  December 17, 2013 - 9:28 am

    You’re not the only one on this and I’m a misecrafter too

  80. Cyberquill -  December 17, 2013 - 9:16 am

    I prefer to keep my views on privacy to myself. Happy to discuss my selfies, though.

  81. Johan -  December 17, 2013 - 8:17 am

    Word of the Year 2013:


  82. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 17, 2013 - 7:07 am

    1st comment! Woo hoo! (sorry if it’s not; no others are showing up right now.)

    Hmmm…I noticed nobody (or almost nobody) posting on Dictionary.com suggested “privacy” as the Word of the Year. But I like it. Good fit for this year – it reflects the advancing technology of this world as well as what’s been going on all year (as opposed to what’s been going on in a music video *cough* Miley Cyrus *cough*).

    I for one am not comfortable with sharing personal info online. I’m kinda paranoid about online stalkers, so I never ever give out any personal info on the Internet. This is why “privacy” is the Word of the Year, I guess. But here’s one personal thing you probably don’t know about me: I’m a Minecrafter! :D And a WolfQuester too. I want to create a multiplayer computer game where you play as a wolf and you have a pack made up of other players and you can defend your territory, hunt, and raise puppies (the most fun part.)

    Well. I just came here to look up the noun form of “mottled” (because I’m typing up the 411 on my game, which I think I’ll call Life of a Wolf Pack, and you can make your wolf mottled), and look what I found.

    Somebody else has probably posted a comment in the time it took for me to write this. :P

    P.S. I’m 13 years old as of yesterday. :)

    P.P.S. Angalyssa, if you see this, please, please, please post! I can’t find you anywhere! :(


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