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‘Fascism’ could be the word of the year, Merriam-Webster says

There’s a chance that “fascism” could be crowned the official “Word of the Year” on Merriam-Webster’s website.
There’s a chance that “fascism” could be crowned the official “Word of the Year” on Merriam-Webster’s website. Richard Drew/Associated Press/File

There’s a chance that “fascism” could be crowned the official “Word of the Year” on Merriam-Webster’s website — but it’s not set in stone.

The Springfield-based dictionary company wants people to know that with a month left until the New Year, the fate of the most-searched term of 2016 might be at their fingertips.

If you’d like a less ugly word to sum up what many have called — due to the deaths of Prince and David Bowie, and the agonizingly long and tempestuous election campaign — the worst year on record, then start furiously typing and searching for a different word.

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“There’s still time to look something else up,” the company told its followers Tuesday, in an entreaty posted to Twitter.

The tweet, said Peter Sokolowski, the company’s editor-at-large, was meant to be playful.

He said Merriam-Webster names the “Word of the Year” based on the number of searches a word gets, with particular attention to the year-over-year increase in searches for that word. The company has only just begun crunching data for 2016.

“It’s by no means certain that it’s the word of the year,” he said. “But searches have been very high.”

Searches for “fascism” have risen to the fourth spot in all-time lookups, showing an increase of more than 400% over 2015, according to the company.

The “Word of the Year” typically reflects current events or topics on the nation’s collective mind, with politics and pop culture largely moving the needle.

Definitions on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary are based on the print version of the company’s Collegiate Dictionary.

The tradition of naming a top-searched word as the word of the year began in 2003, with “democracy.” Results have varied since then. For example, in 2007, the most-searched term was “w00t,” a positive expression commonly used by online gamers. In 2012, it was “socialism” and “capitalism.”

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“Fascism” rose to prominence last month, around the time of the presidential election, and at one point was the most-searched word on the website. On Nov. 14, it topped a list that included “bigot,” “xenophobe,” “racism,” “socialism,” “resurgence,” “xenophobia,” and “misogyny,” in that order.

In case you were wondering, the website defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

While fascism has been a hot topic on Merriam-Webster’s website, interest in the term isn’t an anomaly. In 2015, it was also among the most frequently looked-up words.

Merriam-Webster’s call to action this week seemed to have resonated with the public. The tweet was shared more than 20,000 times. At least one person took the task of changing the results for word of the year to heart.

“I’ve searched ‘puppies’ 523 times in the past 30 minutes. Anything change?” one person replied.

At first, their efforts were for naught.

“No,” the company replied.

But by Friday morning, it appeared that, just maybe, progress was being made. The most-popular word on the company’s website in the past 24 hours was “puppy.” Fascism was in fourth place for that time-frame.

That list is not necessarily an indicator of the word of the year, however. Still, “puppy” is coming on strong.

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“It was high yesterday,” said Sokolowski. “There are many thousands of people that looked it up. To move the needle at this point, though, you really need a lot lookups of the same word.”


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.