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Lots of people are looking for it.But what exactly do they hope to find?

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Couples need it AFTER a fight. College seniors want it at graduation, even if they don't know it. And laid-off employees could probably do with some of it – on top of severance packages.

"It" is closure, and recently it's been on the lips of not only psychologists, but also talk-show hosts, columnists, and politicians. Victims of sexual abuse by priests, millions of Americans who have thronged ground zero, and families of victims who watched Timothy McVeigh's execution were all said to be looking for a concept that first dropped into Americans' daily discourse some 10 to 20 years ago and has been making steady gains since.

It was the title of an "X-Files" episode and the one thing Rachel on the show "Friends" said she needed to get over Ross. There's even a young band in Tampa, Fla. called "Closure."

Lexicographers are taking note. The Oxford English Dictionary is drafting a new entry for the popular meaning of the word, which suggests not merely an ending, but a kind of emotional resolution.

Some say closure is overused psychobabble. Others say the concept serves an important purpose after Sept. 11, helping the nation talk about tragedy.

But given Americans' penchant for turning their backs on the past since the Pilgrims faced the Atlantic, closure may be headed the way of "midlife crisis" – staple vocabulary for any American keeping a journal. "It's no surprise this word has infiltrated our world," says Robert Thompson, a media professor at Syracuse University.

Not a quick fix

Donna Jo Napoli flinches when people slip into self-help speak. She places talk of closure alongside phrases like "Thank you for sharing your concerns."

"It's a kind of [language] that's aimed at handling people," says Ms. Napoli, a linguistics professor at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa. "I find it totally obnoxious." Still, she understands its appeal. Living in an extremely litigious society, Napoli explains, has caused Americans to fear confrontation and cling to indirect language. She might prefer "straight talk," but she recognizes a practical necessity in words like closure.


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