Feminism has been announced as the word of the year by Merriam-Webster. It’s been a big year (or century) for the word. In 2017, online searches for feminism increased by 70% on the previous year on Merriam-Webster.com.
Feminism searches spiked several times after key events, lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, the company’s editor at large, said ahead of Tuesday’s annual word reveal. The Women’s March on Washington in January, along with a sister demonstration in London and elsewhere around the globe, 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 ‘by the pussy’, the ‘#MeToo’ movement rose out of Harvey Weinstein’s fall, and other ‘silence breakers’ brought down rich and powerful men of media, politics and the entertainment worlds – all of which contributed to the rise in feminism searches.
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. ‘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.
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.’ Surreal was the word of the year last year. 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.