Merriam-Webster revealed top words of US election
Trumpery, nasty and oligarchy top our list of 12
We learned a lot of new things during this election: The size of Trump’s hands, how many deplorables can fit into a basket and the fact that Trump Tower serves the best taco bowls. Add to that, all of the new words we added to our national lexicon.
Merriam-Webster – which describes itself as the most trustworthy collection of English words – compiled the 58 words that Americans went online to look up during this unprecedented US presidential campaign.
Here are the top 12:
We start with trumpery, which means worthless nonsense.
While the word might seem to be a play on the last name of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, it has been around since the 15th century. In 1755, Samuel Johnson suggested “empty talk” as a definition for the term in his great dictionary.
While the origin of the word has nothing to do with Donald Trump, his emergence as a strong political candidate brought the obscure word into the light of day. Searches for trumpery have spiked since the end of 2015, as social media users shared the original meaning of the word.
Then comes presumptive, another word deeply tied to Trump during the elections. It’s just a fancier way to say “probable,” but it spiked 504% following Trump’s decisive victory in the Indiana primary and the decision of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to drop out of the election race.
3. Glass ceiling
Words connected to the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton, also made the list as she shattered a “glass ceiling” to potentially win the top job in the nation.
The expression, used to describe an unfair system which prevents certain groups from obtaining powerful jobs due to their race or gender, was always popular with Clinton.
“Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it,” Clinton said following her loss to Barack Obama in 2008.
But she did not give up, and the term “glass ceiling” spiked in searches again on June 7-8 as primary victories in several states gave strength to Clinton’s campaign. Will it crack tonight?
Another woman who has become known for her words – or her ability to replicate others’ words – during the election was Melania Trump.
On July 19 the word “plagiarism” trended worldwide after Mrs. Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention.
It was, without a doubt, the most memorable speech of the night, but the reason it trended all over social media was because her speechwriters borrowed entire passages from Michelle Obama’s 2008 talk at the Democratic National Convention.
5. Oligarchy (and socialism)
Former candidate Bernie Sanders sent people rushing to online dictionaries after using the term “oligarchy” – something he said Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would work against.
“Hillary Clinton will nominate justices to the Supreme Court who are prepared to overturn Citizens United and end the movement toward oligarchy in this country,” he said in July at the Democratic National Convention.
For Sanders, an America run by Donald Trump could become a complete oligarchy, which means, by the way, a government in which power is in the hands of a small, select group of people who serve their own selfish interests.
The word “socialism” also spiked during this period, as Sanders called himself a democratic socialist. In case you don’t know, socialism is a political theory in which “major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies,” according to Merriam-Webster.
Politicians weren’t the only ones making words famous in this election. This one comes from the FBI.
“Redacted” became popular in August after the FBI gave Congress materials from its investigation into Clinton’s private email server.
It also was heavily searched this month – a week before Election Day, in fact – after the FBI released files described as “heavily redacted” from its 2001 investigation of President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.
Aside from technical terms, words used as insults also prompted a lot of online research in 2016. “Bigot” was a popular one, according to Merriam-Webster.
Online searches for “bigot” spiked dramatically on August 24, after nominee Donald Trump used it to attack his fellow candidate by shouting, “Hillary Clinton is a bigot!”
Of course, the word – which describes someone who is devoted to their own opinions and prejudices – has been used to attack both candidates on social media.
In case you’re wondering about the word’s etymology (its origin and history – don’t say you didn’t learn anything here today!), it originally came from the French language and meant a “superstitious religious hypocrite” in the 16th century.
Speaking of foreign words, “hombre,” the Spanish word for man, also made the list, in a HYUUUUGE way.
Searches for “hombre” spiked 120,000% after Donald Trump used it in the final presidential debate.
“We have some bad, bad people in this country… We’ll get them out, secure the border and once the border is secured at a later date we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out,” he said.
Social media users jumped on the #BadHombre trend with memes and other jokes, adding to the list of craziness from this campaign – prompting some to compare it to a comedy sketch.
“Braggadocious” is one to remember. It seems an arrogant word to use, and it means just that. Searches for “braggadocious” – not to be confused with “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” – increased after Donald Trump showed off his vocabulary in the debate with Hillary Clinton on September 26.
But don’t worry if you never heard of it. The word is so obscure that it doesn’t even merit an entry in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
The term, which was scarcely used even in the 17th century from whence it came (again, you’re learning! you’re welcome), used to be shortened to “braggart.”
But some social media users appreciated the vocabulary lesson, and used it in their Halloween decorations.
“Deplorables” was not used to describe the candidates, but one candidate’s supporters.
“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it,” said Hillary Clinton at a fund-raiser in New York.
Donald Trump’s campaign quickly demanded an apology for the remark.
While Clinton later said she regretted using it, the word definitely marked the US elections. Some of Trump’s supporters even took it as a compliment and started using it as a catchphrase online.
11. Locker-room talk
Out of the dark, stinky locker and into the light of day came “locker-room talk.” The expression, which describes conversations of a sexual or offensive nature that should not happen in public, was used by candidate Donald Trump to downplay leaked conversations in which he made lewd and aggressive comments about women.
“I don’t think you understood what was – this was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk,” he said in his defense.
However, several US athletes denounced Trump’s use of the phrase to describe his comments. They shared videos online saying that such conversations have no place, not even in locker rooms.
Yes, overall, this long, long campaign season got “nasty.”
In the final moments of the last presidential debate, Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton was “such a nasty woman” for her plan to raise taxes on the rich to tackle debt and entitlements.
While “nasty” is one of the most common words on this list, it’s still a winner, judging from its popularity through the ages. For more than 700 years now, nasty still means “unpleasant.”
Yet – much like Trump’s “deplorables” – Clinton supporters embraced “nasty” and made it their own.
Actress Lena Dunham even started a Twitter movement to embrace the adjective used to describe Clinton.
So how will the 2016 election be remembered? Some will call it nasty, or deplorable, or a trumpery. But to our friends at Merriam-Webster it was stupefying, reptilian and most of all… OVER.
CNN’s Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report.