‘Feminism’ is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year. You shouldn’t be surprised

The word “feminism” is Merriam-Webster’s 2017 word of the year.
Peter Morgan/Associated Press
The word “feminism” is Merriam

It was scribbled in pink marker on poster boards. It was shouted as a battle cry and whispered as a pact. It was argued about on social media. More than anything, it was tested.

In a year that has defied definition, people around the world continued to search for meaning in what Merriam-Webster now calls its 2017 word of the year: feminism.

The Springfield-based dictionary company defines feminism — a word that can take on various connotations — as both “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”


Merriam-Webster says its data-driven pick was based on two criteria: a major increase in searches and a significant increase in year-over-year searches on the website.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The spiked searches for feminism aligned with some of the year’s standout news events.

Merriam-Webster saw an increase in interest when the Women’s March was held around the world in January. It happened again when White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said she didn’t consider herself a feminist in the “classic sense.”

Most recently, amid a steady drumbeat of sexual harassment news, the resignations of politicians and media figures, and the stamp of solidarity with the #MeToo movement, searches for “feminism” have risen again.

“No one word can ever encapsulate all the news, events, or stories of a given year,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, in a statement.


In addition, “because ideas are abstract and difficult to grapple with, these are the things people look up,” he said in an interview with the Globe. “Often, when a word’s meaning itself is put into question, it drives traffic into our website.”

The past 12 months show that feminism does “stand out” as a word with high interest and searches, he said. The number of searches for the word this year rose 70 percent over 2016.

Other words that had high interest this year, according to Merriam Webster, include dotard, Kim Jong-un’s description of President Trump that means “a person in his or her dotage,” or old age, and syzygy, an astronomy term that was looked up heavily during the solar eclipse and means “yoked together.”

Natasha Mascarenhas can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @nmasc_.