During this last election, we saw innumerable posters and handmade signs indicating that a lot of people don’t understand what socialism is. In fact, certain kinds of outraged voters on the right* seem to use the terms socialism and fascism interchangeably. Or see no meaningful distinction? Or they do, but it’s unclear what that distinction is? Basically, we are a country that sometimes doesn’t seem to know what words mean before we yell them at each other.
Which is to say, Merriam-Webster has shared the most looked up words of the year and socialism gets the top spot… along with capitalism. Which shouldn’t be a big deal–they’re both complicated concepts!–but so much of the country’s political discourse this past year was dominated by people accusing one another of being too much of either. Often incoherently.
Other words on the list were also linked to the election:
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.”
Here’s the complete list, in order:
socialism and capitalism
Part of us wants to be glad that people are looking up words as opposed to just continuing to use them (and also, we realize not being sure what a word means has little to do with one’s intellect)… but it also kind of alarms us to see “democracy” on there.
*Obama supporters all know what socialism is because they are psyched on it, obviously