Members of the American Dialect Society came out in record numbers to vote Friday night at the organization's annual conference, held this year in Portland, Oregon.
Occupy joins previous year's winners, "app," "tweet," and "bailout."
"It's a very old word, but over the course of just a few months it took on another life and moved in new and unexpected directions, thanks to a national and global movement," Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee for the American Dialect Society, said in a statement.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began in September in Lower Manhattan, before spreading to communities around the country and the world as a call to action against unequal distribution of wealth and other issues.
Founded in 1889, the American Dialect Society is made up of "academics, linguists, anyone involved in the specialization of language," according to Grant Barrett, the society's vice president.
Barrett, who also co-hosts "A Way with Words," a public radio program about language, said the annual conference provides an opportunity for linguistics professionals and graduate students to share information and research.
But Barrett says the word of the year vote, now in its 22nd year is, "light-hearted and whimsical."
Nominations for the word of the year are submitted by society members in attendance at the annual conference, but can also be submitted by the community at large.
"Occupy" may have taken top honors, but several other words and phrases received recognition.
"Mellencamp," a woman who has aged out of being a "cougar" (after John Cougar Mellencamp), and "kardash," a unit of measurement consisting of 72 days, after the short-lived marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, were both recognized in the "Most Creative" category.
Barrett said many of the nominated words that have significance now likely won't stand the test of time.
For instance, "Tebowing" and "9-9-9" were quite popular in 2011, but Barrett doubts they'll last very long.
Some words are just outright unnecessary -- like Charlie Sheen's "bi-winning," a term he used to describe himself pridefully, dismissing accusations of being bipolar, and "amazeballs," a slang form of amazing.
In the most outrageous category, "deather" -- one who doubts the official story of the killing of Osama bin Laden -- was recognized.
While all in good fun and a chance for "good-natured intelligent people to let their hair down," Barrett hopes the word of the year vote conveys two important messages to even the purist of linguists: "Language change is normal. Language change is interesting."