We’re officially cheering at our desks this morning. Merriam-Webster dictionary’s Word of the Year is “feminism.”
In 2017, it felt like feminism — the word itself and all that it represents — finally began to get its due, thanks to the Women’s March on Washington in January, in which proud feminists around the globe marched to support women’s rights, as well as the now iconic #MeToo movement. And with all these headline-making events in 2017, searches for the word spiked, helping to secure its well-deserved spot at the top.
Feminism has been in Merriam-Webster’s annual Top 10 for the past two years, but searches for the word began to peak in January after Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s Marches around the globe, followed by another spike after White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told the Conservative Political Action Conference that it was “difficult” to call herself a feminist “because it seems to be very anti-male and very pro-abortion in this context.”
The momentum continued all year, contributing to 70% more searches for the word as compared to 2016.
Merriam-Webster defines the term as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and as the “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Its roots stem from the Latin for “woman” and the word “female,” which dates to 14th century English.
The word first appeared in the dictionary in 1841. Lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, told The Associated Press it once had a starkly different meaning than the term we know today.
“It was a very new word at that time,” Sokolowski said. “[Noah Webster’s] definition is not the definition that you and I would understand today. His definition was, ‘The qualities of females’ — so basically feminism to Noah Webster meant femaleness. We do see evidence that the word was used in the 19th century in a medical sense, for the physical characteristics of a developing teenager, before it was used as a political term, if you will.”
Searches for the word have undoubtedly peaked this year thanks to a sharper focus on women’s issues, as well as those who have spoken out against gender inequality and sexual harassment, abuse, and misconduct — not to mention the popularity of female-centric films and TV shows like Wonder Woman and The Handmaid’s Tale.
Dictionary.com recently named their word of the year “complicit,” which was a runner-up here, too. But we prefer our favorite F word, if we’re being honest.