Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year Speaks Volumes About 2015 (Audio)

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Since 2003, the dictionary publishing company Merriam-Webster has released lists of words every December that best define what the preceding 11 months were all about, and this morning, it became 2015’s turn. In years past, the Words of the Year were decided by the dictionary’s page views and website searches, but in 2008 the reigns were handed over to readers who vote in a poll on the dictionary’s official website. Often, the word or words that win the title are not words already found in the dictionary; for example, past winners include truthiness, google, meme, and so forth. This year, the Word of the Year is somewhere in between a formally recognized word and a new interpretation, but more importantly it is reflective of Americans’ interest in the conceptual ideologies at play in politics and society throughout this year.


On today’s episode of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” it was reported that Merriam-Webster announced “-ism” to be the word of the year. Generally recognized as a suffix, it was chosen because of an overwhelming interest in looking up the definitions to words like “racism,” “terrorism,” “capitalism,” “feminism,” “socialism,” and more. But the top ten words were not all so cerebral. One runner-up was “minion,” thanks to the popularity of the children’s cartoon character from Despicable Me film franchise. And, as Oxford Dictionary announced earlier this year, the most important word of the year doesn’t even have to be a word. Their choice? The crying tears of laughter emoji that dominates comment threads across social media platforms, particularly Instagram.

So what does the choice of “-ism” mean in terms of what Americans deem important? It seems to point to a desire to understand the buzz words most commonly thrown about in a presidential campaign season, a positive sign, certainly, as it is probably indicative of interest in voting. With the visibility of a far-left candidate like Bernie Sanders, the prevalence of protests against police brutality, and the possible election of the first female president, it’s no surprise that words like “socialism,” “racism,” and “feminism” have become more popular in recent months than in years prior.

What is your word of the year?

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