For many, 2017 was a year that defied definition, but that didn’t stop the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster from looking for deeper meaning in the events of the past 12 months. After measuring which terms had more lookups this year than in years past and weighing those words against the news of the day, one piece of language stood out to the dictionary company’s editors as the 2017 Word of the Year: Feminism.
“No one word can ever encapsulate all the news, events, or stories of a given year,” says Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski. Yet feminism — beating out dotard, gaffe, and gyro, among others — made headlines almost as much as trump, which was recently named the Children’s Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.
However, it’s possible that some of feminism’s newsworthiness was of Merriam-Webster’s own doings. Lookups for the meaning of feminism spiked in February, after White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, during remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, said “It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male, and it certainly is very pro-abortion.” In response, the dictionary posted the definition of feminism to its Twitter account:
That wasn’t the first time that Merriam-Webster’s Twitter account trolled the political news of the day, but it may have been the most effective, with the dictionary doubling down with a follow-up tweet the next day.
And though feminism has certainly been a topic on people’s mouths and minds throughout the year — from the January’s Women’s March on Washington to the #MeToo Movement that shows no signs of slowing (and was profiled in TIME’s Silence Breakers Person of the Year issue) — it was at times overshadowed by trendier terms like Dictionary.com’s word of the year, complicit. And of course, there was also covfefe.
“Looking at the news through the prism of vocabulary is ceaselessly fascinating for word lovers,” says Sokolowski. “There is an ongoing national conversation, and Merriam-Webster has a front-row seat.”
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