The American dictionary Merriam-Webster’s 2015 Word of the Year is not even a word. It is a three-letter suffix: -ism.
-Ism is a noun suffix. Merriam-Webster.com defines it as the act, practice, or process of doing something. Major –ism words in 2015 centered on politics, beliefs, and discrimination.
Merriam-Webster chooses its Word of the Year based on how many people look up each word in its online dictionary. It found that seven of the highest-ranking words this year ended in -ism.
One of the highest-ranking -ism words in 2015 was ‘socialism.’ Socialism is a political theory, and a way or organizing a society in which the government, rather than individuals, controls major industries.
Online searches for ‘socialism’ in 2015 increased 169% from last year.
The word’s popularity came from the U.S. presidential race. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is a senator from the state of Vermont. He describes himself as a democratic socialist. The term has confused -- and troubled -- some American voters.
The editors at Merriam-Webster say the number of searches for ‘socialism’ increased during Sanders’ campaign events in July. Searches for the word increased again after the first Democratic presidential debate in October.
Other popular -ism words reflect major news events of the year, too. There was a large increase in searches for words like terrorism, fascism, racism and feminism.
The word terrorism was most frequently looked up after the shootings and bombings in Paris, France, San Bernardino, California, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
After the attack in California, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke about banning Muslims from coming to the United States. After Trump’s speech, Merriam Webster saw an increase in look-ups for the word fascism. The editors defined fascism as “a political philosophy…that exalts nation and often race above the individual.”
The protests at the University of Missouri and police violence around the country led to search increases for the word racism in 2015. Racism is defined as poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race.
Another top -ism word was feminism, the belief that women should have equal rights to men. The dictionary’s editors said that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the media reports on Caitlyn Jenner, who changed her gender, drove the increase in searches of ‘feminism.’
Two more political theories – capitalism and communism – completed Merriam-Webster’s list of seven high-ranking –ism words of 2015.
This year marked the first time Merriam-Webster has selected a suffix as its Word of the Year.
But Merriam-Webster was not the only dictionary to select a non-word as its Word of the Year. The Oxford English Dictionary chose an emoji. Emojis are icons that share a feeling, mood or thought with an image.
Oxford’s winning emoji was a face crying “tears of joy”. Oxford reported that the “tears of joy” face was the most-used emoji worldwide in 2015.
I’m Ashley Thompson.
Ashley Thompson reported this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
What would be your word of the year? Let us know in the comments section!
Words in This Story
suffix – n. a letter or a group of letters that is added to the end of a word to change its meaning or to form a different word
discrimination – n. the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people
exalt - v. to raise (someone or something) to a higher level
gender – n. the state of being male or female
Merriam-Webster’s 2015 -isms of the Year
socialism – n. a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies
terrorism – n. the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal
fascism – n. a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government
feminism – n. the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
racism – n. poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race
capitalism – n. a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government
communism – n. a way of organizing a society in which the government owns the things that are used to make and transport products (such as land, oil, factories, ships, etc.) and there is no privately owned property