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istock / rebecca o'connell
istock / rebecca o'connell

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year is Ism

istock / rebecca o'connell
istock / rebecca o'connell

What makes a word of the year? Merriam-Webster chooses their winner by tracking which terms people look up the most in their online dictionary over the course of the year. In 2015, the most noticeable increases in lookups happened across a whole cluster of words that shared something in common: They were all isms.

Editor Peter Sokolowski says that various events that got people talking also got them looking up isms. News about Bernie Sanders led to a 169 percent increase in lookups for socialism over the year before. People also got curious about communism and capitalism as points of comparison. Commentary on the rhetoric of Donald Trump led people to look for fascism. After the attacks in Paris, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino, terrorism lookups saw an increase.

Lookups for racism spiked after the South Carolina church shooting and continued with news about police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. Feminism lookups followed a story of an Ohio school blacking out the word feminist on a student’s T-shirt in a photo as well as discussions of Caitlyn Jenner, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Emma Watson’s UN speech.

As Sokolowski says, these words show how “we had very serious things on our minds this year.” People don’t look these words up because they have no idea what they mean, but because they are curious about events around them and want to know more. The dictionary doesn’t have all the answers people are looking for, but it is a “place where reflection can begin.”

Still, the news wasn’t all serious. One non ism that had a spike in lookups this year was all about cuteness and fun: minion.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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