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The Dictionary Roasts United Airlines Over Its Definition Of ‘Volunteer’ In A Single Brilliant Tweet

Hey United, you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means

On Sunday, United Airlines hit a new aviation low after it forced a passenger off a plane by dragging him from his seat, down the aisle, and out the door, leaving him bloody and upset.

In case you somehow missed it, the entire event took place because United Airlines overbooked flight 3411 from Chicago O’Hare Airport. Overbooking flights is a totally legal and often used tactic by the airline industry. To help find extra seats for employees it needed to transport, United asked for volunteers to debark the plane, offering $800 to take a flight the next day. But, after no volunteers came forward, the crew began randomly selecting passengers before ultimately bloodying one in the process.


It’s a horrific event at worst, and a public relations nightmare at very best. United Airlines attempted an apology, saying in part, "Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation."

Following the statement, searches for the definition of “volunteer” spiked 1900 percent on Merriam Webster’s site. To help United Airlines understand the meaning of the world, the dictionary tweeted the definition saying:

It additionally noted on its site that United is absolutely using the word incorrectly. “Some of the interest in the definition of volunteer may come from the wording of the statement from United, since a person who did not volunteer to leave was then described as refusing ‘to leave the aircraft voluntarily’—and subsequently being forced to do it,” the dictionary posted.

Posting sassy tweets has become a mainstay of the dictionary’s Twitter account. As GOOD reported in March, the company claims its biting rebukes may seem purposeful, however, they are often simply just inherently funny. “Words from big stories get looked up, no matter what the subject,” says Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large. “Merriam-Webster has always been data-driven, by which I mean we rely on evidence, or data, about how a word is used in order to define it. But we rarely knew how people were using the dictionaries we made until we put our dictionary online.”

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