Here’s Merriam-Webster’s word of 2017 — and what it really means is up for debate

Here’s Merriam-Webster’s word of 2017 — and what it really means is up for debate
"Feminism" is Merriam-Webster's 2017 word of the year. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The word of 2017, according to Merriam-Webster, is “feminism.”

In a year that began with the Women’s March on Washington and is concluding with women rocking multiple industries by telling of their experiences as victims of sexual misconduct, millions of people went to the dictionary to answer one question:

What does feminism actually mean?

The first dictionary reference to the word came in 1841, by Merriam-Webster founder Noah Webster. Back then, the word referred to “the qualities of females” or “femaleness.” Decades passed before it took on the political connotations it has today.

The current definitions say feminism is the “theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activities on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

“The word feminism was being use in a kind of general way,” lexicographer Peter Sokolowski said to Fox News. “The feminism of this big protest, but it was also used in a kind of specific way: What does it mean to be a feminist in 2017? Those kinds of questions are the kinds of things, I think, that send people to the dictionary.”

Online searches for the word spiked several times throughout the year:

  • The Women’s Marches after President Donald Trump’s inauguration
  • Usage of the word linking Hillary Clinton to suffragettes of the early 1900s
  • The “Me Too” movement that saw women revealing times they experienced sexual abuse of some kind
  • When Kellyanne Conway spoke at the Conservative Political Action Committee and pushed back against feminism as pro-abortion and anti-male

There were nine runners-up for word of the year, in no order:

  • Complicit
  • Recuse
  • Empathy
  • Dotard
  • Syzgy
  • Gyro
  • Federalism
  • Hurricane
  • Gaffe

“Surreal” was Merriam-Webster’s 2016 word of the year.