It’s The First Dictionary Treasure Hunt!

“Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”—Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean

Welcome to the first Dictionary Treasure Hunt, an online activity you can use to test both your word-sleuthing and your vocabulary skills. To play, just follow the clues provided in each slide in order to find the hidden word. You'll need to check out some Dictionary.com definition pages to verify the clues. (Helpful hint: look at word origins and related words, too!) When you get stuck, click on some of the linked words and phrases to help you figure out the clues. 

Once you think you have uncovered the correct word, check the confirmation question at the bottom of each slide. If you're certain you have uncovered the right word, click the verify link and move on to the next clue. (Remember only to check once you're ready!)

All of the words in this treasure hunt have something in common. Can you guess what it is before you reach the end of the game? 

Happy hunting!

Clue #1

In legal hot water?

If so, this is the word you long to hear in association with the accusations levied against you.

Need a hint? It means that you have been cleared of wrongdoing and helps to proclaim your innocence. The evidence is what eventually helped to ___________ him.

Think you are ready to confirm? Does your guess originate in 1515–25 and have its roots in a Middle English and Latin word? If so, you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, try another hint: this word absolves you from criminal charges (it is even listed as one of the words related to absolve on the definition page). It was a word Robert Mueller needed to know pretty well last year.

Clue #2

New name, same problem.

If you are of a certain age, you may recall this oft-used phrase in its previous form: global warming. (A variation of this word appears on the global warming definition page, did you see it?) 

Need a hint? It’s the phrase we use to discuss the increase in Earth’s global temperature, often due to greenhouse gases, that results in changes to long-standing weather patterns. 

Think you are ready to confirm? Did your guess make its first recorded appearance between 1980–85? If so, you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, think about this: consider why the glaciers are melting, and what it means for life in the Arctic. Still stumped? Consider asking activist Greta Thunberg; it is a word that she knows well.

Clue #3

Read any good manifestos lately?

Similar to a manifesto, this word has been associated with long diatribes that offer extensive discourse or criticism on a topic (you can find this word alongside other words related to diatribe on the definition page). 

Need a hint? Authorities recovered the gunman's ___________ after the attack. It offered a glimpse into his motives.

Think you are ready to confirm? Is your guess also commonly used in building trades and British dialect? If so, you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, think about this: the word you are looking for has its origins in the Old English word for shred. (That may be exactly how the readers of one of these manifestos may feel: shredded.)  

Clue #4

That’s, uh, not my job …

When things are outside of this range, they are said to be beyond your authority, concern, or job description

Need a hint? It is something you could say to both your boss and in a court of law. If you are using this word with the latter, you would use it to describe that which is within the purpose, or scope, of a legal statute

Think you are ready to confirm? Was your guess first recorded in 1225–75? If so, you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, try another hint: think back to Robert Mueller in the first slide. If you figured out that the first word was exonerate, you know that he had to use this mystery word often when discussing a certain investigation. 

Clue #5

Climate change? What climate change?

If hearing this two-word meteorological term makes you instantly start to shiver, or gives you flashbacks to that scene from The Day After Tomorrow when the team stuck at the Arctic outpost shares its final toast, then you probably live somewhere where this weather phenomenon has become a somewhat regular occurrence. (We don't know about you, but we just can't hear that line, “The important thing is that he will grow up” without choking up.)

Need a hint? This whirling mass of cold air comes from the same place that Santa Claus does. 

Think you are ready to confirm? Does your guess share a name with those cute white bears that are also known as Ursus maritimus (the first word of the phrase can be found on that page)? If so, you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, consider this: climate change, the answer from our second slide, may play a role in this winter weather woe thanks to melting sea ice in the Arctic. 

You're halfway there!

Are you starting to sense a theme? Let’s recap the list so far: 

  • exonerate: to be cleared from an accusation, determined to be free from guilt or blame.
    • They were able to fully exonerate him thanks to the evidence uncovered by the defense team.
  • climate change: the long-term change in the earth’s climate, believed to be caused by an increase in the average temperature in the atmosphere. 
    • The rising sea levels that led to increased coastal flooding are believed to be caused by climate change.
  • screed: a long essay, diatribe, letter, account, or other piece of writing. Generally controversial or opinionated in nature. 
    • The scathing screed appeared in the op-ed section of the paper this morning and blamed the plunging home values on the rise in crime. 
  • purview: a range of authority, control operation, or concern. When it has to do with legal matters, it is that which is provided or enacted in a statute, or the purpose or scope of a statute. 
    • The purpose of the investigation is to determine if his actions are illegal and fall within the purview of this statute.
  • polar vortex: a whirling mass of extremely cold air that sits over the North or South Pole and can be pulled down into areas where such extreme and sudden temperature drops are not common.
    • Pennsylvanians can expect temperatures in the single digits and wind chills in the negatives this week thanks to the polar vortex moving down from Canada.

Clue #6

Well, this can’t be a good sign.

These harbingers from the Bible represent pestilence, war, famine, and death. Their arrival signifies the beginning of the end of days. 

Need a hint? Their appearances in pop culture can be seen from the hit song When the Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash to the CW’s long-running show Supernatural. And, as we said, it is never a good sign when this crew arrives. 

Think you are ready to confirm? Does this quartet make its infamous appearance in Revelation 6:2–8? If so, then you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, try this: remember that these mythical equestrian bad omens serve just one purpose: to usher in the apocalypse

Clue #7

Breaking free from gendered nouns?

Used in place of gendered nouns, this descriptor of a person from Latin America has become more popular in recent years. 

Need a hint? The word replaces Latina and Latino for those who are looking for a nonbinary approach to describing their heritage. The word also appears in this story here

Think you are ready to confirm? Did your word make its first recorded appearance in 2000–05? If so, then you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, consider this: March For Our Lives activist Emma Gonzalez uses this gender-free term when describing herself. 

Clue #8

Lone-wolf attacks and mob mentality ...

When those two things combine, you often end up with this violent act.

Need a hint? It is not a term you hear every day (thankfully!), but this two-word phrase can be used to describe a terrorist attack that is carried out as a result of the public demonization of a person or group. It trended on our site on August 4 (which prompted us to write an explainer article about it!).

Think you are ready to confirm? Did your word make its first appearance in 2010–15? If so, then you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, here's another hint: think of some instances where this word would have been used to describe deadly attacks targeting a certain group or denomination that has been demonized (like the shootings that took place at Pulse nightclub and the mosques in New Zealand). 

Clue #9

Hannibal Lector said it best.

Anthony Hopkins made these three words undeniably creepy when he said them in The Silence of the Lambs, but these days they are getting a second run at infamy thanks to the 2016 election and the 24-hour news cycle. 

Need a hint? It is a Latin term for getting something in exchange for something else (no, it is not tit for tat). 

Think you are ready to confirm? Is your word derived from Latin and literally translates to “something for something?” If so, then you can verify your answer here before moving on to the next slide.

If not, think about this: remember that this phrase has gotten a lot of mileage on Twitter over the past few months, and it will probably continue to do so until November 2020. 

Clue #10

What does it all mean?

Our final word is the one that ties this whole collection together. Did you figure it out? This word, like all the ones that came before it, relates to existence, especially as it pertains to human existence. 

Need a hint? It is the philosophy that pertains to what exists, judged by experience over reason, and empirical rather than theoretical. Jean-Paul Sartre was this type of philosopher. And so was Forky, the spork turned toy in Toy Story 4

Think you are ready to confirm? Is your word the 2019 Word of the Year? If so, you can verify your answer here and see all the ways each of the other words from this slideshow related to it. 

Click through for the final recap and see if you find yourself relating a little bit more to human existence as you take a look at some of the most frequently searched words from 2019.

Final recap

You made it through! Now, take a look at the words from the second half of the treasure hunt and see if they leave you feeling existential ...

  • Four Horsemen: four riders representing pestilence, war, famine, and death as described in the Book of Revelations in the Bible. 
    • This latest crop of reality stars might be compared to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, ushering in the end of days disguised as entertainment.
  • Latinx: a way to describe people of Latin American origin or descent without reverting to the masculine Latino, feminine Latina, or gender-binary Latin@. 
    • They are a Latinx singer.
  • stochastic terrorism: the public demonization of a person or group that results in a violent act.
    • The shooter in the Texas Walmart may have been acting as a lone wolf, but the campaign of stochastic terrorism demonizing Mexican migrants clearly influenced him.
  • quid pro quo: something given or taken in exchange for something else.
    • Quid pro quo: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!
  • existential: of or relating to existence, especially human existence, as it is determined by an individual’s freely made choices. Also, a characteristic of philosophical existentialism.
    • How do we deal with the existential threat that climate change poses to humanity?

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