For the second time this year, a dictionary publisher has given its "Word of the Year" honor to something that is not a word.
Merriam-Webster declared the suffix "-ism" as the word (except it's technically not one) that best summed up 2015. This follows Oxford Dictionaries' decision last month to name an emoji (the tears of joy emoji, to be specific) which is even less a word than a suffix is, as their word of the year.
Merriam-Webster explained the rationale behind its choice thus: "A suffix is the Word of the Year because a small group of words that share this three-letter ending triggered both high volume and significant year-over-year increase in lookups at Merriam-Webster.com."
Suffixes aren't words in the technical linguistic sense; they're bound morphemes — parts of words that can't stand alone.
Merriam-Webster notes that the version of "-ism" without the hyphen actually is a word, specifically "a noun meaning 'a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory' or 'an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief.'"
But it's the suffix that got the honor this year, due to searches for words like "racism," "fascism" and "socialism." (Merriam-Webster speculates that the latter word gained currency because of socialist Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, and "fascism" because it's been used to insult Donald Trump.)
Other "-ism" words that comprised popular Merriam-Webster searches this year include "feminism," "communism," "capitalism" and "terrorism."
Merriam-Webster also noted a few other popular searches this year that might have been named word of the year if it weren't for the non-word that won. These were "marriage," "hypocrite," "respect," "inspiration" and (sorry, parents who are sick of hearing this one) "minion."
Last week, Dictionary.com bravely bucked this year's trend by naming a word as their word of the year. They selected "identity," citing increased conversation this year over gender and sexual identity, in large part because of former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner's decision to come out as a transgender woman.