2017 word of the year: Feminism

2017 word of the year: Feminism

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017: ‘Feminism’

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 per cent over 2016 on Merriam-Webster.com and spiked several times after key events, lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, the company’s editor at large, told The Associated Press ahead of Tuesday’s annual word reveal.

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 honours 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 use in a kind of general way,” Sokolowski said by phone from the company’s headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts. “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.”

Webster added the word in revisions to his “An American Dictionary of the English Language.” They were his last. He died in 1843. He also added the word terrorism that year.

“We had no idea he was the original dictionary source of feminism. We don’t have a lot of evidence of what he was looking at,” Sokolowski said.

Today, Merriam-Webster defines feminism as the “theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activities on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

Another spike for the word feminism in 2017 occurred in February, after Kellyanne Conway spoke at the Conservative Political Action Committee.

“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 seems to be very pro-abortion. I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion,” she said. “There’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices. … I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. And to me, that’s what conservative feminism is all about.”

She was applauded, and she sent many people to their dictionaries, Sokolowski said. The company would not release actual lookup numbers.

Other events that drew interest to the word feminism was the popular Hulu series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the blockbuster movie, “Wonder Woman,” directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, Sokolowski said.

Merriam-Webster had nine runners-up, in no particular order:

— Complicit , competitor Dictionary.com’s word of the year.

— Recuse , in reference to Jeff Sessions and the Russia investigation.

— Empathy , which hung high all year.

— Dotard , used by Kim Jong-un to describe Trump.

— Syzygy , the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies, such as the sun, moon and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse.

— Gyro , which can be pronounced three different ways, a phenom celebrated in a Jimmy Fallon sketch on “The Tonight Show.”

— Federalism , which Lindsey Graham referred to in discussing the future of the Affordable Care Act.

— Hurricane , which Sokolowski suspects is because people are confused about wind speed.

— Gaffe , such as what happened at the Academy Awards when the wrong best picture winner was announced. That was a go-to word for the media, Sokolowski said.

Leanne Italie, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cat died in this house fire in Sidney afternoon. The fire started on the house’s deck and spread from that point. Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the permanent presence of crews at the Community Safety Building prevented worse damage. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Firth)
Sidney house fire kills cat, causes extensive damage

Official says fire started on deck and damage to the house could have been worse

Millstream Village is welcoming a new Marshalls location March 9. (Photo courtesy GWL Realty Advisors)
New Marshalls store in Langford brings boost to women in need

Retailer will hold opening ceremony in Millstream Village March 9

Abstract Developments is donating $75,000 to support community programming at The Cridge Centre for the Family. (Courtesy of The Cridge Centre)
Victoria developer builds support for community programs

Abstract Developments donates $75,000 to The Cridge Centre for the Family

SD 62 (Sooke) has announced a COVID-19 exposure at David Cameron Elementary in Colwood. Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24. (Black Press Media File).
COVID-19 exposure at Colwood’s David Cameron Elementary

Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Office vacancy rates are rising in Greater Victoria while the supply of industrial land is shrinking. (Black Press Media File)
Report finds supply of industrial land in Greater Victoria shrinking

Office vacancy rates in Greater Victoria continue to rise

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read