Merriam-Webster Word of the Year 2017

Posted 15 December, 2017 by Alicia in Language / 0 Comments has already chosen their word of the year for 2017, and that word is complicit. I covered that in this post. Most recently, Merriam-Webster has chosen their word of the year, which is feminism. There is a definite political theme going on here with these words.

The website gives these definitions:

  • the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
  • organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests gives these definitions:

  • the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men
  • (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women
  • Older Use. Feminine character

Please read the announcement article here for the full story. I will pull out some interesting points. As for politics, interest in the term spiked after the Women’s March in Washington, DC and after Kellyanne Conway said that she didn’t consider herself a feminist. It has also spiked after the release of movies and TV shows apparently promoting feminism, as well as after the sexual harassment scandals in the news.

As I said in the previous Word of the Year post, I do not wish to get too political here at Alicia the Editor. My focus is primarily on grammar and semantics, not sociolinguistics—especially modern. I wish to refrain from discussing polarizing political issues. But there are plenty of good discussions to find on other sites.

That said, I’ll give a bit of info about its history from the OED. It has its origins in Latin, from fēmina which means “woman.” An English suffix, -ism, was added. In some of the other definitions, its inspiration is from foreign terms.

Let’s have their definitions:

  • Feminine quality or character; femininity. Now rare. (earliest: 1841)
  • The appearance of female secondary sexual characteristics in a male individual; feminization. Now rare or disused. (earliest: 1875)
  • Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this (see note below)

The note is as follows:

The issue of rights for women first became prominent during the French and American revolutions in the late 18th cent., with regard especially to property rights, the marriage relationship, and the right to vote. In Britain it was not until the emergence of the suffragette movement in the late 19th cent. that there was significant political change. A ‘second wave’ of feminism arose in the 1960s, concerned especially with economic and social discrimination, with an emphasis on unity and sisterhood. A more diverse ‘third wave’ is sometimes considered to have arisen in the 1980s and 1990s, as a reaction against the perceived lack of focus on class and race issues in earlier movements.


The earliest recorded use of the latter sense was in 1895. The example is thus:

Her intellectual evolution and her coquettings with the doctrines of ‘feminism’ are traced with real humour.


There are nine other popular words discussed in the announcement article that are worth reading about. A lot of them are political, but some are not. Check it out!

If you’re curious why feminism was chosen as the word of the year, read this article.

I hope you found this interesting. It’s always good to take note of the words of the year and the events surrounding them. Any chance to meaningfully reflect upon our own lives and how words shape them should be seized.

Work cited

  • “feminism, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2017, Accessed 14 December 2017.


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