Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2017: 'Feminism'

By Italie, Leanne | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 31, 2017 | Go to article overview

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2017: 'Feminism'


Italie, Leanne, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


NEW YORK * This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2017 is "feminism."

Yes, it's been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Merriam-Webster.com and spiked several times after key events, lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, the company's editor at large, said.

There was the Women's March on Washington in January, along with sister demonstrations around the globe. And heading into the year was Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and references linking her to white-clad suffragettes, along with her loss to President Donald Trump, who once boasted about grabbing women.

The "Me Too" movement rose out of Harvey Weinstein's dust, and other "silence breakers" brought down rich and famous men of media, politics and the entertainment worlds.

Feminism has been in Merriam-Webster's annual Top 10 for the last few years, including sharing word-of-the-year honors with other "isms" in 2015. Socialism, fascism, racism, communism, capitalism and terrorism rounded out the bunch. "Surreal" was the word of the year last year.

"The word feminism was being used in a kind of general way," Sokolowski said by phone from the company's headquarters in Springfield, Mass. "The feminism of this big protest, but it was also used in a kind of specific way: What does it mean to be a feminist in 2017? Those kinds of questions are the kinds of things, I think, that send people to the dictionary."

Feminism's roots are in the Latin for "woman" and the word "female," which dates to 14th-century English. Sokolowski had to look no further than his company's founder, Noah Webster, for the first dictionary reference, in 1841, which isn't all that old in the history of English.

"It was a very new word at that time," Sokolowski said. "His definition is not the definition that you and I would understand today. His definition was, 'The qualities of females,' so basically feminism to Noah Webster meant femaleness.

"We do see evidence that the word was used in the 19th century in a medical sense, for the physical characteristics of a developing teenager, before it was used as a political term, if you will. …

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