‘Feminism’ is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

The reference source made its choice based on a surge in online searches in 2017, an outgrowth of the #metoo movement and the widening pushback against workplace harassment.

A lot of people were researching feminism in 2017.

That’s what Merriam-Webster says prompted its announcement that “feminism” is its Word of the Year, beating out contenders “dotard” and “complicit,” among others in its annual top 10.

Merriam-Webster wrote:

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism. The word was a top lookup throughout the year, with several spikes that corresponded to various news reports and events. The general rise in lookups tells us that many people are interested in this word; specific spikes give us insight into some of the reasons why.

The political climate certainly affected the words people were most interested in this year as divisive messages bombarded Americans.

Merriam-Webster continued:

Feminism spiked following news coverage of the Women’s March on Washington, DC in January (and other related marches held around the country and internationally), and follow-up discussions regarding whether the march was feminist, and what kind of feminism was represented by organizers and attendees. The word spiked again when Kellyanne Conway said during an interview that she didn’t consider herself a feminist. In this case, the definition of feminism was itself the subject of the news story—an invitation for many people to look up the word.


The word feminism highlights how many are thinking in new ways about gender and gender bias, including the sweeping changes in entertainment, news media companies and other industries as the #MeToo movement has taken hold and gained momentum.

Time magazine made its Person of the Year the “Silence Breakers” who spoke out about a culture of abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Merriam-Webster’s choice aligns with that seismic shift in male-female interactions.

USA Today wrote:

Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster, said in a statement that “no one word can encapsulate all the news, events, or stories of a given year.”

“But when we look back at the past twelve months and combine an analysis of words that have been looked up much more frequently than during the previous year along with instances of intense spikes of interest because of news events, we see that one word stands out in both categories,” Sokolowski said in a statement.

Twitter users took up the word, sharing their own definitions of what the word means to them.

Other words highlighted by Merriam-Webster include: complicit, recuse, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro, federalism, hurricane and gaffe.

Though the word “feminism” may have special import for 2017, some pointed to its thematic essence, which has been a key element to M-W’s prior selections.

Vox wrote:

Feminism, though, falls well in line with other top American English words of the year previously declared by Merriam-Webster. Like the past five words (“socialism” and “capitalism” in 2012, “science” in 2013, “culture” in 2014, “-ism” in 2015, and “surreal” in 2016), feminism speaks to broader themes of discussion throughout the year, as Americans think about our economic systems, war, religious institutions, our changing environment, unresolved social injustice, and growing political discord.

“Feminism,” like the words that came before it, signals a national grappling with the concepts and institutions we sometimes take for granted until we’re forced to examine their complexities. And if the current news is any indication, interest in feminism likely won’t die down in 2018.

What do you think of Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year, PR Daily readers? What were your most used words of 2017?

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