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‘Feminism’ Is the 2017 Word of the Year

‘Whatever’ voted most annoying

woman protestor with pink hat in street with other women

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

The Women’s March on Jan. 21, one day after President Donald Trump's inauguration, is one of the events this year that prompted people to look up the word feminism.

This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is “feminism.”

In 2017, lookups for the word increased 70 percent over 2016 on, and searches have spiked several times after key events, lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, the company’s editor at large, told the Associated Press.

There was the Women’s March in Washington in January, along with sister demonstrations around the globe. And heading into the year was Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and references linking her to white-clad suffragettes, along with her loss to President Donald Trump, who once boasted about grabbing women.

The #MeToo movement rose out of Harvey Weinstein’s dust, and other “silence breakers” brought down rich and famous men of media, politics and the entertainment world.

“Feminism” has been in Merriam-Webster’s annual Top 10 for the past few years and shared word-of-the-year honors with other “isms” in 2015. Socialism, fascism, racism, communism, capitalism and terrorism rounded out the bunch.

“Surreal” was the word of the year last year.

Feminism’s roots date to 14th-century English. Sokolowski had to look no further than his company’s founder, Noah Webster, for the first dictionary reference, in 1841. “It was a very new word at that time,” Sokolowski said. “His 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.”

On the flip side, there’s one word a lot of people seem to hate: “whatever.” Every year the Marist Institute for Public Opinion (MIPO) — a survey research center — conducts a poll, and for nine straight years, Americans say “whatever” is the most annoying word or phrase used in casual conversation.

“It has been more than 20 years since ‘whatever’ first gained infamy in the movie Clueless. While the word irks older Americans, those who are younger might not find ‘whatever’ to be so annoying,” says Lee M. Miringoff, MIPO director.

Fake news” took second in the Marist Poll for most annoying phrase with 23 percent of the vote, compared with 33 percent for "whatever."

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