Merriam-Webster's words of the year reflect political divisions, rancor

Posted: Dec. 6, 2012 12:13 pm Updated: Dec. 27, 2012 1:15 pm


WORDSMITHS at Merriam-Webster's found that election year politics made for strange bedfellows, or at least an unlikely pair of words of the year.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of the iconic dictionary company, this week announced a tie for word of the year honors between "American capitalism" and "European socialism." Dual honors were prompted by side-by-side interest in definitions sought through the company's website.

Other political terms were among the Top 10 words, including "democracy" and "globalization." The word "malarkey" became the most searched word in a 24-hour period after Vice President Joe Biden used the Irish-American word to accuse GOP nominee Paul Ryan of talking nonsense during their televised debate.

Merriam-Webster's annual announcements have become something of a social phenomenon. Word searches seem to mirror the nation's hot topics and provide a handle on social movements or concerns in a given year. Some words or phrases come to represent a kind of shorthand for particular historic events. For example, some people testifying during the Watergate hearings of the 1970s endlessly repeated "at that point in time."

One of Merriam-Webster's also-ran words this year, "schadenfreude" could be a contender for the top spot if the state of political rhetoric continues to turn ever more bitter. The term, comprised of German words for "damage" and "joy" is used to describe taking pleasure from the misery of others. When the news media used the word this year, online word checks rose 75 percent.

Congress is deadlocked in much the same way that it was before the recent election, mirroring a deadlocked electorate. Political attacks far outnumber voices calling for civility.

If political leaders fail to find ways to work together and keep focusing on divisions and rancor, schadenfreude could become the word of the year sometime soon. It would be a sad day for the nation, at that point in time.