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Words of the Year 2012

SPRINGFIELD, MASS., December 5, 2012—Merriam-Webster Inc., America's leading dictionary publisher, has announced the Top Ten Words of the Year. Based on the volume of user lookups at Merriam-Webster.com, this list sheds light on topics and ideas that sparked the nation's interest in 2012.

Two words, socialism and capitalism, share the top spot due to discussion and debate around the presidential election. Socialism saw its largest lookup spikes during coverage of healthcare but also saw peaks in the days following both conventions and each of the presidential debates. Capitalism, although looked up somewhat less often, rode the same waves of interest.

"We saw a huge spike for socialism on Election Day itself, but interest in both words was very high all year," says Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large at Merriam-Webster. "Lookups of one word often led to lookups of the other."

The word socialism refers to governmental ownership and administration of the production and distribution of goods. Capitalism refers to private or corporate ownership of the tools used to make and transport products whose prices are set by competition on the free market.

"It's fascinating to see which language from a campaign or debate speech resonates with our users," says John M. Morse, President and Publisher at Merriam-Webster. "With socialism and capitalism, it's clear that many people turned to the dictionary to help make sense of the commentary that often surrounds these words."

Other words on the list had a more lighthearted connection to political events. For example, meme spiked when Mitt Romney's phrase "whole binders full of women" inspired a range of online parodies, and "binders" was dubbed the Internet meme of the moment. "With Facebook, Twitter and other social media, online response to news events has become simultaneous commentary – and parody," says Sokolowski. "The word meme now sometimes serves as the noun form of the adjective viral."

Another entry, touché, is "used to admit that someone has made a clever or effective point in an argument."

"Lookups of touché ran high all year," said Morse, "and it's hard to say why. It certainly gained attention when Disney Research revealed details about a new technology using that name and when used by a contestant of the hit TV series Survivor, but we think that it is simply a word enjoying a period of increased popular use, perhaps as a byproduct of the growing amount of verbal jousting in our culture, especially through social media. People use the word when acknowledging good points made by their opponents and, when the occasion permits, celebrating their own."

Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year for 2012:

1. socialism and capitalism

Click on each of the other words in the Top Ten List for their definitions in Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary:

  1. touché
  2. bigot
  3. marriage
  4. democracy
  5. professionalism
  6. globalization
  7. malarkey
  8. schadenfreude
  9. meme

Word of the Year Archive