So, what are people thinking? Affect and effect are among the most looked-up words on any given day; other frequently searched terms include paradigm, ubiquitous, integrity, conundrum, and pragmatic. "Most of them have classical roots and slightly abstract meanings; they send people to the dictionary," he says. But you can break it down even further: People go to the dictionary for a few different reasons: for usage (as with affect and effect), for spelling (a word like fiancé), or for comprehension or definitions (with love, another frequently looked-up word, "they're not going for the spelling," says Sokolowski). Sometimes it's easy to connect a word spike to a news story, like in the case of Boson, but often it's more abstract, he says, referencing democracy and socialism. In those cases, "it's just about the zeitgeist."
Fantastic piece by Jen Doll, about how Merriam Webster gives is alive and well, and providing a window into our culture: