2015 Words of the Year

For the first time, Merriam-Webster has named a suffix, -ism, as its “Word of the Year.” This choice reflects the fact that many of their highest ranking words in 2015 had one thing in common; they ended in -ism.  (A suffix is a letter or group of letters that comes at the end of a word and is often used to refer to a specific idea or ideology related to that word.) 

According to Merriam-Webster, the suffix -ism goes back to Ancient Greek, and was used in Latin and medieval French on its way to English. Originally, it turned a verb into a noun: think of baptize and baptism, criticize and criticism, or plagiarize and plagiarism. It has since acquired many other uses, including identifying a religion or practice (Calvinism, vegetarianism), a philosophy (Sophism, Humanism), a condition based on an excess of something (alcoholism), or a characteristic feature or trait (colloquialism).

Merriam-Webster’s list of high-ranking -isms begins with the most looked-up word of the year, socialism, and also includes fascism, communism, capitalism, terrorism, racism, and feminism. Here are the definitions of these words for kids:

Socialism – a social system or theory in which the government owns and controls the means of production (as factories) and distribution of goods
Fascism – a political system headed by a dictator in which the government controls business and labor and opposition is not permitted
Communism – a social system in which property and goods are held in common
Capitalism – a system under which land and wealth is for the most part owned by private individuals
Terrorism – the use of violence as a means of achieving a goal
Racism – 1: belief that certain races of people are by birth and nature superior to others; 2: discrimination, prejudice, or hatred based on race.
Feminism – the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities

The results shed light on topics and ideas that sparked the nation’s interest in 2015.

Socialism has been near the top of our online dictionary lookup list for several years,” explains Peter Sokolowski, Editor-at-Large at Merriam-Webster. “However, this year lookups moved up even further, beginning with the July campaign events for Bernie Sanders… and spiking again after the first Democratic debate in October.”

Terrorism was frequently looked up during the past year, particularly following attacks in Paris, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino. Responses to those attacks drove lookups of fascism.

Police violence, the South Carolina church shooting, and the University of Missouri protests were among the reasons that lookups of racism increased this year, while Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and other stories contributed to spikes for the word feminism.

A second group of non -ism words sent people to the dictionary in large numbers in 2015:


“These words reveal our curiosity and our engagement; we’re looking at the news through the prism of vocabulary,” added Sokolowski. “A definition can be the beginning of reflection. This year, we’ve certainly had a lot on our minds.”

When the Merriam-Webster “Word of the Year” was started in 2003, the online dictionary determined which words would appear on the list by analyzing page hits and popular searches to its website. For more background on Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Year, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_Merriam-Webster’s_Words_of_the_Year.

NOTE: Some other dictionaries choose their own words of the year. Dictionary.com’s 2015 Word of the Year is: “Identity“, while the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2015 is… an emoji called “Face with Tears of Joy”!

If you could pick a word of the year, what would it be?

This entry was posted in 400 Language and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *