December 16, 2015

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is “ism”



One ism among many

Merriam-Webster has revealed its word of the year and, in what appears to be a fast-growing tradition, it is not technically a word. Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is a suffix: “ism.”

While Oxford English Dictionary chose the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji as its word of the year (we wrote about it here), Merriam-Webster decided “ism” best reflected the most popular types of words being searched for on its online dictionary in 2015. And as Associated Press reports, it wasn’t just any “ism” that users were looking for:

The top isms to earn high traffic spikes and big bumps in lookups on the dictionary company’s website in 2015 over the year before are socialism, fascism, racism, feminism, communism, capitalism and terrorism.

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, said of the results, “It’s a serious year. These are words of ideas and practices. We’re educating ourselves.”

Word usage and popularity can tell us important things about the concerns of the day, and online dictionaries can now track these changing concerns in real time. Merriam-Webster tracks its online searches against news events, and this year’s results reveal that it was a year of identity politics in culture, society and on the political stage.

As the AP reports:

Lookups for fascism corresponded to release of video in November showing a white police officer shooting a black teenager in Chicago, and the criminal charges that followed. Merriam-Webster also saw a stronger correlation in heavy traffic on its site for that word and “fascist” and flash points in Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including reports on his anti-Islam rhetoric.

Meanwhile the spike in searches for “feminism” was thanks to:

Reports on Caitlyn Jenner, Amy Schumer and Hillary Clinton all included discussion of feminism, as did reviews of the film Mad Max: Fury Road and chatter about previews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Bernie Sanders led the charge to “socialism”:

“The big spikes have been associated with the fact that we have a presidential candidate who identifies as a Democratic Socialist,” Sokolowski said. “We saw that even though socialism was in the Top 10 of the most looked-up words in the whole history of the site, it increased in a spike beginning in late July when Bernie Sanders had a multicity rally that was organized through social media and attracted about 100,000 people in 3,000 communities or more around the country.”

Other popular searches included “marriage,” “hypocrite,” “respect,” “inspiration” and—what else?—“minion.”




Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.