Americans apparently swept up by election year rhetoric looked up "socialism" and "capitalism" more than any other words in 2012, with "touché" running in the third spot, dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster announced on Wednesday. (Also cracking the top 10 were "malarkey," "marriage" and "schadenfreude"; "meme" earned a spot, too, thanks to a spike related to Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" comment.)
The list, derived from the volume of lookups on the Merriam-Webster site, reflected the war of words surrounding the presidential election. "Socialism," the company said, spiked during coverage of health care and also jumped after both party conventions and each of the presidential debates. Interest in "capitalism" also rose along the same lines.
"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."
What about "touché"? Are Americans bucking the trend of ever-more-polarized politics and looking for an elegant way to acknowledge that their adversaries in debates are making a solid point? Maybe not so much, according to John M. Morse, president and publisher at Merriam-Webster.
"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,'" he said."But we think that it's 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," he said. "People use the word when acknowledging good points made by their opponents and, when the occasion permits, celebrating their own." Ah, that seems cromulent, though it's nice to think that Americans might increasingly believe in embiggening their vocabularies.
Without further ado, the top 10 most looked-up words of 2012. Use them all in a single sentence, win a prize! (Not really.)
socialism and capitalism