It provoked protests in European capitals from Athens to Brussels, hurt sales of Heineken beer and stole the spotlight at a June G20 summit in Canada. "Austerity" is now Merriam-Webster's top word of 2010.
"Austerity," which the Springfield, Massachusetts-based publisher defines as "enforced or extreme economy," spiked to the top of the company's top ten list based on the number of searches at its website, www.merriam-webster.com.
Coupled with No. 2 "pragmatic," the list reflects a year when searchers were still worried about a rocky world economy, said Peter Sokolowski, the dictionary's editor at large.
"It's a serious list for a serious year," Sokolowski said in a phone interview on Monday.
The word "austerity" cropped up most in connection with European governments' efforts to chop spending. Merriam-Webster did not disclose numbers on individual searches.
"Because it has such a clear implication for personal finance, it is easy to apply this to yourself," Sokolowski said. "That makes it a word that people look up.
It also had implications for Heineken, the Netherlands company that cited austerity measures as one of the factors weighing its beer sales this year.
The rest of the list included "moratorium," "socialism," "bigot," "doppelganger," "shellacking," ebullient," "dissident" and "furtive."
A search through a year of coverage of European budget matters shows that the word "austerity" was more frequently used by its opponents than its supporters, though European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet did rise to its defense in a June interview with Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.
"As regards the economy, the idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect," Trichet said, according to an English-language transcript published on the ECB's website.
Others had a less-welcoming view of the new top-searched word.
"This is the start of the fight, not the end. That our voice be heard is our major demand today -- against austerity and for jobs and growth," John Monks, head of the European Trade Union Confederation, told a September rally in Brussels.