Merriam-Webster Picks ‘Feminism’ as Word of the Year

Demonstrators protest near the White House in Washington, DC, for the Women’s March on January 21, 2017. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

What one word can sum up a year marked by Women’s Marches, sexual misconduct allegations and the #MeToo movement?

According to Merriam-Webster that word is “feminism.”

Today the dictionary publisher unveiled its annual “Word of the Year” list, which features the terms most frequently searched on the company’s website throughout the year, along with the reasons why. “Feminism” was the leader of the pack, with a 70 percent increase in lookups over 2016.

The word was first defined by dictionary founder Noah Webster in 1841 as “the quality of female.” But in modern language, it actually has two definitions: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

Not surprisingly, “feminism” was looked up most frequently this year in conjunction with female-focused events. The first spike came in January after the Women’s March on Washington, and it peaked again the next month when Kellyanne Conway said she didn’t consider herself a feminist because she’s not “anti-male” or “pro-abortion.”

Lookups of feminism also increased in the final months of the year as more women came forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault. And popular movies like Wonder Woman and TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale also led to interest in feminism.

“No one word can ever encapsulate all the news, events or stories of a given year, particularly a year with so much news and so many stories,” Merriam-Webster editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski said in a video announcing the choice. “But when a single word is looked up in great volume and also stands out as one associated with several different, important stories, we can learn something about ourselves through the prism of vocabulary. There is an ongoing national conversation, and Merriam-Webster has a front row seat.”

Number two on Merriam-Webster’s list was “complicit,” which Dictionary.com named “Word of the Year” last month. Like the earlier site, Merriam-Webster pointed to Ivanka Trump as the main reason for the word’s popularity. The first daughter said in an interview that she didn’t know the meaning of the word, leading to a Saturday Night Live parody. (For the record, “complicit” means “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way”).

The year’s other top word searches included:

  • “Recuse,” or “to remove (oneself) from participation to avoid a conflict of interest,” which gained in popularity following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations.
  • “Empathy,” which spiked after President Donald Trump’s travel ban; Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi was one of many people who criticized Trump’s lack of empathy during the ban protests.
  • “Dotard,” or “person in state or period of senile decay,” which spiked in popularity after North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un used the word to describe Trump.
  • “Syzygy,” or “the configuration of celestial bodies in a gravitational system,” which was looked up frequently after (surprise) the solar eclipse.
  • “Gyro,” the Greek sandwich with a name no one can pronounce, became popular in March, after Jimmy Fallon and Luke Bryan sang a song about the food (and its pronunciation).
  • “Federalism,” or “the distribution of power between a central authority and the constituent units,” which was debated frequently during protests over the Republican health care bill.
  • “Hurricane,” which was looked up a lot in September as Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria battered the U.S. and Caribbean coasts.
  • “Gaffe, or “noticeable mistake,” spiked in lookups after the Oscars “Envelope-Gate” scandal involving Moonlight and La La Land.

We can’t wait to see which words define 2018.

Merriam-Webster Picks ‘Feminism’ as Word of the Year