merriam webster socialism capitalism

Merriam-Webster’s Top Two Words In 2012? Socialism And Capitalism

Merriam-Webster has clarified the top two most looked up words in 2012, and let it not be said that political debaters are failing to clarify their terms — “socialism” and “capitalism” have edged out all others when it comes to words needing a clarification of meaning in this election year.

Merriam-Webster can cull interest levels in words like “socialism” and “capitalism” now that we’ve all abandoned analog dictionaries and headed to the Google God for all our definition-related needs. (The trend also seems to belie an American fear of words that looms larger than the concepts behind them — with “socialist” deemed an insult or scary word versus the perceived-as-complimentary “capitalist.”)

Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski commented on what drives the spike in politically semantic words in years like 2012, saying:

“They’re words that sort of encapsulate the zeitgeist. They’re words that are in the national conversation … The thing about an election year is it generates a huge amount of very specific interest.”

Indeed, Merriam-Webster’s top 2012 words don’t so much inform the direction of debate so much as reveal it — a debate the Washington Post quotes Sokolowski as explaining is a snapshot of a larger spat over the merits “American capitalism” versus “European socialism.”

“Democracy,” “globalization,” “marriage,” and “bigot” all ranked in the top ten, indicating that Merriam-Webster’s data suggests a larger focus on politics and the rightness of any one concept when searchers turn to definition-bearing tomes — or sites. Another breakout that saw a large spike was, unsurprisingly, “malarkey” — a somewhat dated term for a more common expletive that was invoked by Irish-American VP Joe Biden during his debate with fellow Irish-American Paul Ryan.

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