Like TIME’s “person of the year,” who is chosen based on global impact rather than good deeds done, Merriam-Webster’s “word of the year” isn’t chosen based on how funny, how cute, or difficult it is. It’s chosen based on what people are looking up, and this year, less than a month before the dictionary chooses which word is the most important, their twitter is begging (beseeching? imploring? importuning?) you to look up any word — any word — that isn’t “fascism.”
Because like it or not, if that’s what people keep searching, that’s what’s going to end up being our word of the year.
In all honesty, having “fascism” be the word of 2016 may be more fitting than not. It hasn’t been a great one, has it? Our favorites are dying, failed TV hosts are being elected to run our country, and people are still out there denying global warming. But you know what? Merriam-Webster is still trying. It still wants all of us to do a little bit better and make this year’s word something like “thaumaturgy” (magic! miracles!) or “flummadiddle” (something foolish or worthless; also, a main course pudding that doesn’t sound too appetizing).
Will that happen? Probably not! And that means that “fascism,” which is now as popular as “love” or “sex” (imagine Hackers, but with Matthew Lilliard telling you that “god” has been replaced with “fascism” as one of the world’s most common passwords) could soon join the pantheon of important words such as “ism” (2015), “culture” (2014), and science (2013).
According to Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s Editor at Large (who’s previously helped us understand the intricacies of the word “literally”), the tweet was only partly in jest. The word Merriam-Webster chooses to represent the year doesn’t just come from the number of look-ups but also how it’s trended compared to other years. He says that while “fascism” has certainly been on the rise this year — enjoying unprecedented highs as we sink lower and lower into our post-election depression — it’s always been a popular word, one that people look up regularly. Because MW (that’s what we’re calling it now, we’re friends) can’t just choose the same word over and over again based on look-ups, it’s got to take trends into account.
Sokolowski couldn’t tell us whether “fascism” will be topping the list this year for sure, but maybe you should start looking up other words just to be safe. And check out MW’s twitter account (we told you, we’re buddies now) for some word-based hilarity. (Yeah, that may sound boring, but it really, really isn’t.)