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Ebola, hackers drive Dictionary.com word of the year: 'Exposure'

Dictionary.com says Ebola outbreaks, privacy concerns and horrific acts of violence influenced its decision to make "Exposure" the Word of the Year.

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Be sure to use the word "exposure" in a sentence today. Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Theft of personal information, outbreaks of the Ebola virus and alarming acts of violence have dominated news headlines for much of 2014. Dictionary.com took this under consideration when choosing its word of the year -- "exposure."

"Dictionary.com has traditionally taken the approach of finding the word that best represents the events that have happened through the year," Dictionary.com CEO Michele Turner said. "For example, last year we chose 'privacy,' given the NSA/PRISM leak and numerous other personal data privacy concerns. Our approach uses language as a marker for the events that shape the year, and this year, we found a word that covers so many newsworthy bases."

The word "exposure" originally referred to a state of being without protection from the elements due to a lack of shelter, but over time its meaning has changed to mean so much more.

"From the pervading sense of vulnerability surrounding Ebola to the visibility into acts of crime or misconduct that ignited critical conversations about race, gender, and violence, various senses of exposure were out in the open this year," Dictionary.com stated on its website.

Now when we use the word "exposure," we're often talking about being exposed to harm or danger due to sudden outbreaks like that of the recent Ebola scare, which has already tallied over "14,000 cases in West Africa, with over 5,000 confirmed deaths," according to Dictionary.com.

"Exposure" can also mean alerting the public not only to health scares, but to unjust acts of violence. This year, protests of a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., made headlines not because the media took action but because of citizens who posted videos and photos to Twitter so the rest of the world could see what was happening live. Hacktivist groups like Anonymous also exposed identities of KKK members online.

"Exposure" can also mean disclosing private and confidential information as with numerous stories this year of credit card numbers, passwords and photos that were hacked and shared with the public. Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase and Target were some of the many companies targeted. Nude photos of over 100 celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence were also exposed after Apple's iCloud was hacked.

"Our lexicographers and content editors analyze not only our own word-lookup data," Turner said, "but Google trends and other sources, to get a comprehensive look back at the year. The multiple meanings of the word 'exposure' encapsulated so many of the major events that we felt it was the best choice to represent 2014."