What Were the Top Ten Words of 2017

2017 was an interesting year characterized by an outspoken president, horrific weather events, and controversial protests. We shouldn’t be surprised that the top ten words from 2017 would also be interesting and controversial, including feminism, gaffe, and syzygy. (I actually know syzygy. Do you?)

Every year, Merriam-Webster.com names its top ten words of the year, based on how many times they were looked up. Here they are, all definitions from Merriam-Webster.com.

Feminism: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes;  organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

I like to think of feminism as this: a world view that appreciates the complicated nature of human beings and does not use gender as a basis for behavioral expectations or intrinsic value. Like so many other concepts, it isn’t something that can be understood in simplistic, black and white terms. I can be a feminist and a stay at home mom at the same time. Even men can be feminists, which doesn’t mean they are into pink (although that’s okay); it means they believe in the respectful treatment of women.

In 2017, feminism was a top look up throughout the year, with spikes following the Women’s Marches of January 2017, the release of the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, and the rise of the #MeToo movement. There has been so much coverage and controversy surrounding the word and its meaning that Merriam-Webster declared feminism its Word of the Year for 2017.


Complicit: helping to commit a crime

This word was used often during the year to describe various activities of the Trump administration.

Recuse: to disqualify oneself as judge in a particular case

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gained attention when he recused himself from the investigation of Hillary Clinton and of the possible collusion between Russia and the Trump administration.

Empathy: the ability to share another person’s feelings

This word often came up in criticism of Trump and the Republicans (are you seeing a trend here?). It is also an important value of the #MeToo campaign.

holding hands
Photo: Yoel Ben-Avraham via flickr CC-BY-ND

Dotard: a person in senile decay who demonstrates decreasing mental poise and alertness

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used this word to describe Donald Trump.

Syzygy: a nearly straight line configuration of three celestial bodies

This word was popular in August because of the solar eclipse. Cool Word Nerd Note: Syzygy was the name of my high school literary magazine. 🙂

Gyro: a gyroscope, gyrocompass, pronounced \ ˈjī-(ˌ)rō \;  a Greek sandwich made from lamb and beef, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce on pita bread, pronounced \ ˈyē-ˌrō , ˈzhir-ō \

Both words come from the Greek gyros meaning turn, and the spike in look ups happened after a Jimmy Fallon skit about the pronunciation of “gyro”.

Federalism: the distribution of power in an organization between the central authority and its constituent units; eg, the Federal government and the states

This word basically relates to states rights, and it got popular when Senator Lindsay Graham said of the Affordable Care Act that legislators must choose between socialism and federalism regarding health care.

Hurricane: a tropical cyclone with winds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour or greater that occurs especially in the western Atlantic, that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder, and lightning, and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes.

People were probably seeking for technical information while looking up “hurricane” in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria.

Gaffe: a noticeable mistake

There was a big gaffe during 2017 Academy Awards, when the Oscar for best picture was originally given to La La Land but Moonlight was the real winner.

Did you learn anything new?  What are your favorites from this list? 

I’m a big fan of feminism and empathy.  I hope we see more of those in 2018, and a lot less of words like complicit, dotard, and gaffe.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!







Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.


  1. Syzgy – what a great Scrabble word that would be! It’s a new word for me.

    Feminism is a terrific pick for word of the year. So many opponents of feminists clearly do not know the true definition…if they did, why would they oppose it? Well, I could answer that, but don’t get me started! I’m going to choose empathy – that’s a word we all should know and an act we should all practice.

  2. Well I learned something new!

    I love gyros and have just discovered a yummy restaurant nearby (relatively 🙂 that serves such yumminess. Dotard? Interesting. Complicit – yes, have heard that word a lot, esp after Ivanka Trump perfume parody. Thanks for these. Always fun!

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