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.

Just Posted

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The objectives of the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down Syndrome. Photo supplied.
Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society offers support for families in the community

New non-profit seeking directors in cities across Vancouver Island

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at a fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. Mowi Canada has applied to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands by June, 2022. (Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward photo)
Major B.C. salmon farms seek court intervention in Discovery Islands ban

Fisheries minister is phasing out operations in the area by June 2022

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Ucluelet paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Cumberland photographer Sara Kemper recently took the top spot in a Canadian Geographic photography contest. Photo by Sara Kemper
Vancouver Island photographer takes top Canadian Geographic photo prize

Sara Kemper shows what home means to her in Comox Valley photo

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila is stepping down as deputy mayor following controversy over her decision to travel to Mexico in December. (Black Press Media file photo)
Councillor steps down as deputy mayor of Metchosin after controversial trip to Mexico

Mayor hopeful mediation will help council get back to the business of community

Possible COVID-19 exposures may have occurred at Alexander Elementary School on Jan. 13, 14 and 15. (Google Maps)
Alexander Elementary in Duncan announces possible COVID-19 exposures

Exposures may have occurred on Jan. 13, 14 and 15

Victoria police arrested a man after at least 14 downtown locations were damaged Jan. 20. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Victoria glass smashing suspect believed to be water taxi thief

Man arrested for damaging at least 14 downtown locations

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
One in five tests in Fernie area coming back positive: doctor

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
From the “You can’t make this stuff up” file – stories from the BC CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Victoria police are warning people of a continued rise in cybercrime. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
Victoria police warn of rising cybercrime called spear phishing

Fraudsters continue to trick people out of large sums of money

Most Read