Allyship, an old noun made new again, is Dictionary.com's word of the year. The lookup site with 70 million monthly users took the unusual step of anointing a word it added just last month, though “allyship” first surfaced in the mid-1800s, said Associate Director of Content & Education John Kelly. “It might be a surprising choice for some,” he told the AP ahead of Tuesday's unveiling. “In the past few decades, the term has evolved to take on a more nuanced and specific meaning. It is continuing to evolve and we saw that in many ways.”
The site offers two definitions for allyship: The role of a person who advocates for inclusion of a “marginalized or politicized group” in solidarity but not as a member, and the more traditional relationship of “persons, groups or nations associating and cooperating with one another for a common cause or purpose.” It's the first definition that took off most recently in the mid-2000s and has continued to churn. Following the summer of 2020 and the death of George Floyd, white allies—and the word allyship—proliferated as racial justice demonstrations spread. Before that, straight allies joined the causes of LGBTQ oppression, discrimination, and marginalization.
Without an entry for “allyship,” Kelly said the site saw a steep rise in lookups for “ally” in 2020 and large spikes in 2021. It was in the top 850 searches out of thousands and thousands of words this year. Dictionary.com broadened the definition of “ally” to include the more nuanced meaning. The terms “DEI” and “critical race theory” made their debuts as entries on the site with “allyship” this year. While Merriam-Webster relies solely on site search data to choose a word of the year, Dictionary.com takes a broader approach. It scours search engines, a broad range of text, and taps into cultural influences to choose its word of the year. (Two other dictionaries went with COVID-related words as their 2021 picks.)