“Ism” is a serious suffix. It implies heavy ideas and philosophies, some of them inspiring, others frightening. A person looking up an “ism” word is likely trying to learn more about one of these ideas, and people were doing plenty of that in 2015.
All these “ism” lookups on Merriam-Webster‘s online dictionary has led the company to declare the suffix its Word of the Year, and the words that occupied Americans in 2015 are a testament to what a difficult 12 months it has been.
The company’s editor at large, Peter Sokolowski, said we had an awful lot to think about in 2015, the Associated Press reported.
“These words 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. We had a lot on our minds. It’s a serious year. These are words of ideas and practices. We’re educating ourselves.”
Some of those “ism” words: socialism, fascism, racism, feminism, communism, capitalism, and terrorism.
Interestingly, the presidential debate drove a lot of lookups, and most of them were inspired first by Bernie Sanders and his political inclination to democratic socialism. Then Donald’s Trump’s call to ban Muslims led many people to search fascism, though a lot of those searches were also inspired by terrorist attacks and police violence.
In a factoid that Sanders should declare as a minor victory, socialism was actually the most looked up word, Time added, but Merriam Webster decided to pick the suffix.
“It was hard not see a bigger story staring us in the face, which was the profusion of ism words all over the most frequently looked-up list.”
Socialism searches spiked in late July, when Bernie had a rally that attracted 100,000 people in 3,000 communities. It spiked again during the first Democratic debate between him and rival Hillary Clinton. As Time put it, Bernie’s announcement that he’s a democratic socialist led to “vast … confusion among voters about what Democratic socialism actually is.”
Fascism is a decidedly less positive “ism” that attracted Americans’ interest in 2015. The Donald, who is the GOP’s frontrunner for president, drove some of that interest with his anti-Islam rhetoric, but not all of it.
“Fascism we more closely associate as the response to various acts of terrorism. After the attacks in Paris and the attacks in Colorado Springs and in San Bernardino, and because of Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims, we then see the word fascism spike,” Sokolowski said.
People also looked up this “ism” when a video was released in November that showed a white cop shoot a black teenager in Chicago.
Racism was also a very popular search word this year as well, inspired by the South Carolina church shootings and the protests at the University of Missouri. Emma Watson’s U.N. speech last year inspired lookups of the oft-maligned “ism,” feminism, when Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai called herself one in a viral video, and it was revealed that Watson was encouraged to leave the word out of her inspiring talk.
Hillary Clinton, Amy Schumer, Caitlyn Jenner, reviews of Mad Max: Fury Road, and prattle about Star Wars: The Force Awakens also encouraged discussion on the topic.
Merriam-Webster picks its Word of the Year by crunching data that filters out commonly searched words, and then links those lookups to news events. Other “ism” words that made the list of the most-searched this year: professionalism, masochism, federalism, pragmatism, existentialism, hedonism, and Marxism.
And in an interesting side note, other countries have also picked their Word of the Year for 2015, and the vast majority reference terrorism or the refugee crisis in some way, Bloomberg added.
- Germany — “Fluechtlinge” or refugees
- Austria — “Willkommenskultur” (“welcoming culture”)
- Norway — “Flyktningdugnad,” or “refugee volunteer”
- Portugal — “Refugiado”
- France — “laicite” and “liberte d’expression” (“secularism” and “freedom of expression”)
- Netherlands — “cyberkalifaat” (which references ISIS success on the Internet)
- And in more light-hearted Word of the Year choices:
- Britain — lumbersexual
- Norway — “pappakropp” (“dad bod”)
- Germany — “Flexitarier” (sometimes vegetarian)