Yesterday, the dictionary doyens at Merriam-Webster announced their pick for the 2015 Word of the Year, and for the first time, the winner isn’t an entire word; it's a suffix.
Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year pick is driven by data on user lookups at Merriam-Webster.com. Two criteria must be met for a word to make the WOTY shortlist: it must show a high number of lookups over the previous twelve months, and it must show a significant year-over-year increase in the number of lookups.
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s Editor-at-Large, notes that the words we look up “reveal our curiosity and our engagement; we’re looking at the news through the prism of vocabulary. A definition can be the beginning of reflection. This year, we’ve certainly had a lot on our minds.”
If this is true, and online dictionary lookups are an indication of what we as a people are concerned about, then politics and social issues have loomed large over the last year. Seven words in particular that received higher than usual numbers of lookups had one thing in common: they all ended with the same suffix.
So Merriam-Webster’s team named as 2015 Word of the Year that suffix:
Those seven -isms, which, taken together, account for millions of individual dictionary lookups over the last year, reflect issues most of us have struggled with to some extent:
- Many people are taking a closer look at communism and capitalism as our country’s relationship with Cuba changes.
- Fascism’s spike in lookups followed Donald Trump’s comments about banning Muslims from the United States.
- A number of events, from Hillary Clinton’s presidential run to Caitlyn Jenner’s story, have caused lookups for feminism to increase.
- Police violence and Black Lives Matter protests have led many people to wonder just what the dictionary has to say about racism.
- Socialism, always a popular search, spiked after Bernie Sanders entered the presidential race.
- After attacks in Paris, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, and elsewhere, terrorism has been in the minds, and the search boxes, of many of us.
Some of the other top lookups of 2015 show the same social and political considerations. High on the lookup list were hypocrite, respect, inspiration, and marriage, the last of which peaked when the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could marry nationwide.
One other noticeable spike occurred for the word minion. One hopes it’s because of the popularity of Illumination Entertainment’s movie Minions and not because of a heretofore unnoticed rise in Dr. Evil-level arch-villainy.
To find out more about -ism and the WOTY, check out Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year Gallery.