In what is a modestly surprising development, Mirriam-Webster has reported that "socialism" and "capitalism" are the two most looked-up words of 2012, and thus, the words of the year. All we can say is, it is about time people learned the difference. And now that they know how the two differ on paper, they will get a front row seat to experience it in practice too.
For those still confused, here it is:
so·cial·ism, noun, \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property; b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
cap·i·tal·ism, noun, \ˈka-pə-tə-ˌliz-əm, ˈkap-tə-,
an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market
Traffic for the unlikely pair on the company's website about doubled this year from the year before as the health care debate heated up and discussion intensified over "American capitalism" versus "European socialism," said the editor at large, Peter Sokolowski.
The choice revealed Wednesday was "kind of a no-brainer," he said. The side-by-side interest among political candidates and around kitchen tables prompted the dictionary folk to settle on two words of the year rather than one for the first time since the accolade began in 2003.
"They're words that sort of encapsulate the zeitgeist. They're words that are in the national conversation," said Sokolowski from company headquarters in Springfield, Mass. "The thing about an election year is it generates a huge amount of very specific interest."
Democracy, globalization, marriage and bigot — all touched by politics — made the Top 10, in no particular order. The latter two were driven in part by the fight for same-sex marriage acceptance.
Last year's word of the year was austerity. Before that, it was pragmatic. Other words in the leading dictionary maker's Top 10 for 2012 were also politically motivated.
"Malarkey" almost stole the show:
Harken back to Oct. 11, when Vice President Joe Biden tangled with Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan in a televised debate focused on foreign policy — terror attacks, defense spending and war, to be specific.
"With all due respect, that's a bunch of MALARKEY," declared Biden during a particularly tough row with Ryan. The mention sent look-ups of malarkey soaring on Merriam-webster.com, Sokolowski said, adding: "Clearly a one-week wonder, but what a week!"
Actually, it was more like what a day. Look-ups of malarkey represented the largest spike of a single word on the website by percentage, at 3,000 percent, in a single 24-hour period this year. The company won't release the number of page views per word but said the site gets about 1.2 billion overall each year.
Malarkey, with the alternative spelling of "y'' at the end, is of unknown origin, but Merriam-Webster surmises it's more Irish-American than Irish, tracing it to newspaper references as far back as 1929.
Beyond "nonsense," malarkey can mean "insincere or pretentious talk or writing designed to impress one and usually to distract attention from ulterior motives or actual conditions," noted Sokolowski.
"That's exactly what Joe Biden was saying. Very precise," especially in conversation with another Irish-American, Sokolowski said. "He chose a word that resonated with the public, I think in part because it really resonated with him. It made perfect sense for this man to use this word in this moment."
But at the end of the day, the two words of distinction rightfully go to those explaining where the world has been, and where it is headed.
And now at least the general population will be somewhat educated on both.