Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the Boston Common for the Boston Women's March in January.

Credit: Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

'Feminism' Is Merriam Webster's Word Of The Year For 2017

December 12, 2017

What’s in a word? Ask Merriam-Webster. The Springfield-based dictionary maker has announced its word of the year for 2017. The winner? Feminism. 

Merriam-Webster began naming a word of the year back in 2003, using data from their online dictionary. Former selections have included “bailout” in 2008 and “surreal” last year.

"We look back at the last 12 months and combine an analysis of words that have been looked up much more frequently than the previous year, along with instances of intense spikes," said the dictionary's editor at large, Peter Sokolowski. 

Sokolowski said those spikes in lookups are often driven by single news events. By that measure alone, a number of words floated to the top of this year's list. Discussion around Attorney General Jeff Session's role in the Russia election-meddling investigation led to increased lookups of the world "recuse." The Best Picture mix-up at the Oscars led to spikes in the word “gaffe.” And this summer’s solar eclipse gave a big bounce to the word “syzygy.”

"Which means the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies such as the sun the moon and the earth," explained Sokolowski. 

But when the sustained, year-over-year rise in interest was factored in, this year’s top word was a clear winner.

Sokolowski said "feminism,” already one of the site's most looked-up words, was up 70 percent over last year. And the word spiked several times in 2017, including around the Women's March in Washington D.C. in January, the release of The Handmaid’s Tale TV Series in April, and as the #MeToo movement has picked up steam in recent weeks.


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