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Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017: ‘Feminism’

This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is “feminism.”

Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, look-ups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Merriam-Webster.com and spiked several times after key events, lexicographer Peter Sokolowski, the company’s editor at large, told The Associated Press ahead of Tuesday’s annual word reveal.


There was the Women’s March on Washington in January, along with sister demonstrations around the globe. And heading into the year was Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and references linking her to white-clad suffragettes, along with her loss to President Donald Trump, who once boasted about grabbing women.  


The “Me Too” movement rose out of Harvey Weinstein’s dust, and other “silence breakers” brought down rich and famous men of media, politics and the entertainment worlds.


Feminism has been in Merriam-Webster’s annual Top 10 for the last few years, including sharing word-of-the-year honors with other “isms” in 2015. Socialism, fascism, racism, communism, capitalism and terrorism rounded out the bunch. Surreal was the word of the year last year.


“The word feminism was being use in a kind of general way,” Sokolowski said by phone from the company’s headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts. “The feminism of this big protest, but it was also used in a kind of specific way: What does it mean to be a feminist in 2017? Those kinds of questions are the kinds of things, I think, that send people to the dictionary.”

Feminism’s roots are in the Latin for “woman” and the word “female,” which dates to 14th century English. Sokolowski had to look no further than his company’s founder, Noah Webster, for the first dictionary reference, in 1841, which isn’t all that old in the history of English.


“It was a very new word at that time,” Sokolowski said. “His definition is not the definition that you and I would understand today. His definition was, ‘The qualities of females,’ so basically feminism to Noah Webster meant femaleness. We do see evidence that the word was used in the 19th century in a medical sense, for the physical characteristics of a developing teenager, before it was used as a political term, if you will.”


Webster added the word in revisions to his “An American Dictionary of the English Language.” They were his last. He died in 1843. He also added the word terrorism that year.


“We had no idea he was the original dictionary source of feminism. We don’t have a lot of evidence of what he was looking at,” Sokolowski said.


Today, Merriam-Webster defines feminism as the “theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activities on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”


Another spike for the word feminism in 2017 occurred in February, after Kellyanne Conway spoke at the Conservative Political Action Committee.


“It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly seems to be very pro-abortion. I’m neither anti-male or pro-abortion,” she said. “There’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices…. I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. And to me, that’s what conservative feminism is all about.”

She was applauded, and she sent many people to their dictionaries, Sokolowski said. The company would not release actual look-up numbers.


Other events that drew interest to the word feminism was the popular Hulu series, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the blockbuster movie, “Wonder Woman,” directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, Sokolowski said.


Merriam-Webster had nine runners-up, in no particular order:

Complicit, competitor Dictionary.com’s word of the year.
Recuse, in reference to Jeff Sessions and the Russia investigation.
Empathy, which hung high all year.
Dotard, used by Kim Jong-un to describe Trump.
Syzygy , the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies, such as the sun, moon and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse.
Gyro, which can be pronounced three different ways, a phenom celebrated in a Jimmy Fallon sketch on “The Tonight Show.”
Federalism, which Lindsey Graham referred to in discussing the future of the Affordable Care Act.
Hurricane, which Sokolowski suspects is because people are confused about wind speed.
Gaffe, such as what happened at the Academy Awards when the wrong best picture winner was announced. That was a go-to word for the media, Sokolowski said.

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Putin Visits Ankara as Bilateral Relations Continue to Deepen

In their third meeting in a month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Ankara. The talks primarily focused on Syria, but Putin’s visit coincides with U.S.-Turkish relations, reeling from a crisis sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Regarding Jerusalem, I have observed that we share common opinions with Mr. Putin, and we’ve come to an agreement that we will sustain our decisiveness in this matter,” Erdogan said in a joint press statement with Putin, referring to the Russian president as his “dear friend.”

“The resolution by the U.S. to move the American embassy to Jerusalem is far from helping the settlement of the situation in the Middle East,” Putin said. “It is destabilizing the already complicated situation in the region, which is difficult as it is today.”

In a move that will add to Washington’s unease over Ankara’s warming relationship with Moscow, the Turkish president announced that a controversial purchase of a Russian missile system should be finalized this week. NATO strongly opposes the sale, claiming it is incompatible with its systems.

Putin’s visit is just the latest move in what some analysts call a careful and well-played strategy by Russia of building influence and sowing discord amongst its rivals. Before meeting Erdogan, Putin met with another U.S. ally, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Cairo. Prior to the meeting with Putin, Erdogan ratcheted up his rhetoric over Trump’s Jerusalem move.

“With their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has become a partner in the bloodshed,” Erdogan said. 

Throughout the year, Turkish-Russian relations have blossomed as U.S.-Turkish ties have plummeted. The latest meeting between Putin and Erdogan is the eighth this year. The two leaders are increasingly cooperating over Syria. Monday’s talks focused on the planned Syrian National Congress on National Dialogue, an event Moscow hopes will bring together the Syrian government and the opposition. Putin said the Congress would address the adoption of a constitution, the parameters of a future Syrian statehood, and the organization of elections under the control of the United Nations.

Even though Moscow and Ankara back opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, analysts say that with the war approaching an endgame, both sides have something to gain in cooperation.

Putin has successfully exploited Ankara’s anger and mistrust over Washington’s backing of the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia in its war against the Islamic State. Ankara calls the YPG terrorists, claiming they are linked to a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

But Moscow, too, has been backing the YPG and its political wing, the PYD. Putin is pressing for the YPG to be included in meetings to end the cvil war, which Ankara bitterly opposes. Last week, images appeared of Russian and YPG forces openly collaborating in a military operation against the Islamic State.

“We’ve seen Ankara critical of the photo of Russian military representatives and the YPG,” said analyst Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. “But this cannot be compared to the policy of the U.S., which is providing heavy weapons to the YPG.” 

Turkish-Russian relations could be further boosted by Putin’s announcement of the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria. 

“Ankara would look at this as an opportunity to expand its influence across the border,” said Ulgen. 

Turkish forces remain massed on the border of the YPG-controlled Syrian Afrin enclave.

“As things stand, Afrin remains under Russian protection. But if indeed Russia were to pull back its troops, this would certainly give more room to Turkey to contemplate military action against Afrin,” Ulgen predicted.

Putin may be wary of abandoning the Syrian Kurdish militia, which Moscow has been developing ties with over several years. Analysts point out that the powerful militia could be useful in helping protect Moscow’s interests in the region from other potential regional rivals, including Turkey and Iran, especially as it winds down much of its military presence in Syria. But such a move would likely test Moscow’s currently successful balancing act —managing its conflicting policies in Syria.

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Waiting for Congress, Mnuchin Makes 2nd Emergency Debt Move

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday he is making a second emergency move to keep the government from going above the debt limit while awaiting congressional action to raise the threshold.


In a letter to congressional leaders, Mnuchin said he will not be able to fully invest in a large civil service retirement and disability fund. Skipped investments will be restored once the debt limit has been raised, he said.


In September, Congress agreed to suspend the debt limit, allowing the government to borrow as much as it needed. But that suspension ended Friday.


The government said the debt subject to limit stood at $20.46 trillion on Friday. Mnuchin has said he will employ various “extraordinary measures” to buy time until Congress raises the limit.


The Congressional Budget Office estimated in a recent report that Mnuchin has enough maneuvering room to stay under the limit until late March or early April.


If Congress has not acted before Mnuchin has exhausted his bookkeeping maneuvers, the government would be unable to borrow the money it needs to meet its day-to-day obligations, including sending out Social Security and other benefit checks and making interest payments on the national debt.


In August 2011, a standoff between Congress and the Obama administration over raising the borrowing limit came down to the wire and prompted the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency to impose the first-ever downgrade of the government’s credit rating.


Raising the debt limit is a separate issue from the need for Congress to pass a spending bill to cover government operations. A failure to pass a spending bill triggers a partial government shutdown but does not carry the potential catastrophic market disruptions that a failure to raise the debt limit poses.


In his new letter, Mnuchin said, “I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting to increase the statutory debt limit as soon as possible.”

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US High Court Turns Away Dispute Over Gay Worker Protections

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by a Georgia security guard who said she was harassed and forced from her job because she is a lesbian, avoiding an opportunity to decide whether a federal law that bans gender-based bias also outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The justices left in place a lower court ruling against Jameka Evans, who had argued that workplace sexual orientation discrimination violates Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Workplace protections are a major source of concern for advocates of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Gregory Nevins, an attorney at Lambda Legal, an LGBT legal advocacy group representing Evans, said it was unfortunate the court turned away the case. Lambda Legal had cited language in the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide to support their argument.

“The vast majority of Americans believe that LGBT people should be treated equally in the workplace,” Nevins said.

The case hinged on an argument currently being litigated in different parts of the United States: whether Title VII, which bans employment discrimination based on sex, also outlaws bias based on sexual orientation. Title VII also bars employment discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin.

Lower courts are divided over the issue, making it likely the Supreme Court eventually will hear a similar case. In April, a Chicago-based federal appeals court found that Title VII does forbid job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent federal agency that enforces Title VII, had argued since 2012, during Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration, that bias against gay workers violates that law.

In July, Republican President Donald Trump’s administration argued the opposite in a separate case before a New York federal appeals court.

Evans in 2015 sued Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, a psychiatric facility, and several of its officials.

She alleged that while she worked there from 2012 to 2013, her supervisor tried to force her to quit because she wore a male uniform and did not conform to female gender stereotypes.

She said the supervisor asked questions about her relationships, promoted a junior employee above her, and slammed a door into her body.

In March, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the hospital, saying only the Supreme Court can declare that Title VII’s protections cover gay workers.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for Georgia’s attorney general, whose office represented the defendants, had no immediate comment.

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Macron Urges Netanyahu to Make Gestures For Peace

French President Emmanuel Macron urged visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a move toward peace with the Palestinians in the wake of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has sparked a wave of protests in the Arab and Muslim world. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports fresh protests took place in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and elsewhere on Sunday.

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EU to Netanyahu: Jerusalem Must be Capital of Two States

European Union diplomats are set to tell to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that their position remains Israeli-Palestinian peace can only be obtained through negotiations and that Jerusalem is not the capital solely of Israel.

“We Europeans believe that Jerusalem must be the capital of two states, the state of Israel and the state of Palestine,” said EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. “And we believe that the only way to achieve this goal is via direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

WATCH: Macron on Trump Jerusalem decision

Mogherini said she delivered that message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and would say the same to Netanyahu as he meets with EU foreign ministers Monday in Brussels.

The meeting comes days after President Donald Trump broke with decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital and setting in motion the process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the ancient holy city.

Before leaving for a stop in France ahead of the Brussels meeting, Netanyahu attacked what he said was European leaders’ “hypocrisy” in criticizing Trump’s decision.

“While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it,” Netanyahu said. “I hear voices from there condemning President Trump’s historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it.”

He added Sunday after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron that Jerusalem has always been Israel’s capital, and that “the sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we’ll move toward peace.”

Macron condemned attacks on Israel, but said he opposes Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. Macron described it as a “breach of international law and a risk for peace. In risk for peace because I believe these statements do not serve security, including the security of Israel and the Israelis.”

Trump’s decision has been met by protests in parts of the Muslim and Arab world, including a new wave of demonstrations Sunday.

Lebanese security forces outside the U.S. Embassy in Beirut fired water cannons and tear gas to beat back Lebanese and Palestinian protesters who hurled projectiles at the embassy and burned Trump in effigy, along with U.S. and Israeli flags.

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, thousands of protesters mounted a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Jakarta. Other protests occurred in Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories bordering Israel.

Police in the Swedish city of Gothenburg arrested three people for allegedly throwing firebombs at a synagogue. A police spokesman said Sunday the incident is being investigated as attempted arson. No one was hurt in the incident.

Israeli police said a security guard was stabbed and seriously wounded near the Jerusalem bus terminal. His attacker was arrested.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defended Trump’s decision in an interview on CNN. She said Israel already has numerous government agencies in Jerusalem, adding, “Why shouldn’t we have the embassy there?” She said Trump “did the will of the (American) people” by making a decision that previous U.S. presidents refused to do.

Earlier Sunday, the Arab League called Trump’s decision “a dangerous development that places the United States at a position of bias in favor of the occupation and the violation of international law and resolutions.”

The statement was issued after an emergency meeting of league foreign ministers in Cairo and went on to say that Trump’s decision also strips the U.S. of its role as a “sponsor and broker” in the Mideast peace process.

The resolution also said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “undermines efforts to bring about peace, deepens tension and will spark anger that will threaten to push the region to the edge of the abyss of violence, chaos and bloodshed.”

The head of the Arab League called on the nations of the world to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital, in response to Trump’s announcement. The foreign ministers also called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning Trump’s decision.

The heads of the largest Christian church in Cairo and Al-Azhar University have said they will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Cairo on December 20. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also announced he will not meet with Pence, saying “the U.S. has crossed red lines” on Jerusalem.

A spokeswoman for Pence said Sunday it was “unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region.”

A statement from the Coptic Orthodox Church called the Trump decision “inappropriate and without consideration for the feelings of millions of people.”

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AP Fact Check: Trump Wrong on Black Homeownership, Trade, Wages

In his rally Friday night, President Donald Trump falsely stated that black homeownership has hit a record high under his stewardship and made the dubious claim that he set Canada’s prime minister straight on the state of trade between the two countries.

Trump spoke in Pensacola, Florida, across the state line from Alabama. Trump looked back on his months in office and overstated his achievements during more than an hour of boasting.

A look at some of his statements:

Black homeownership

TRUMP, surveying the crowd: “Look at these guys, ‘blacks for Trump.’ I love you. I love you. By the way, now that you bring it up, black homeownership just hit the highest level it has ever been in the history of our country. Congratulations.”

THE FACTS: Not true or even close.

The U.S. Census finds that the black homeownership rate peaked during 2004, when 49.7 percent of black households owned homes (the rate for all races that year reached 69.2 percent, also a modern record). The black homeownership rate stayed in similar territory until the recession, when it dropped to the mid-40s.

This year: 42.7 percent in the first quarter, 42.3 percent in the second and 42 percent in the third. That’s an uptick from last year but far from a record. Quarterly rates this year for the total U.S. population: 63.6 percent, 63.7 percent and 63.9 percent.

​Signed legislation

TRUMP: “Working with Republicans in Congress we’ve already signed 88 pieces of legislation. We get no credit. They always say, well, President Trump really needs this tax bill because he hasn’t passed any legislation. Well, so far in 10 months we’ve passed more during this period of time than any other president in the history of our country and the second — let’s call runner up — is Harry Truman, was second.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s first-year legislative record pales next to that of a variety of presidents (Franklin Roosevelt, with his New Deal, signed 14 historic laws in his first 100 days). The tax package Trump may soon sign would mark his first major legislative achievement after months of false starts and frustrations on health care and more. His promised infrastructure initiative got sidelined but appears in the offing.

Trump signed a law strengthening accountability at the Veterans Affairs Department, used executive orders to roll back Obama-era regulations and policies and, perhaps most significantly, won confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch. But legislatively, his record is thin, despite having Republican majorities in Congress.

All presidents sign plenty of bills that have little consequence; most don’t make so much of it. Among Trump’s routine signings: naming a Veterans Affairs health clinic in Butler County, Pennsylvania, after Bataan Death March survivor Abie Abraham, appointing a regent at the Smithsonian Institution, naming a federal building and courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee, after late Sen. Fred Thompson.

​Trudeau and trade

TRUMP on a conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about trade: “He said, ‘I’m telling you that Canada has a deficit with the United States.’ I told my people, in front of a lot of people, I said, go out and check — and he was right. Except he forgot two categories — lumber, timber and energy. Other than that, he was right. When you add them altogether we actually have a $17 billion deficit with Canada, right? So, he forgot a couple of categories that he didn’t want to mention.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s accounting is puzzling and at odds with U.S. trade statistics.

Trudeau is right that the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada, according to those numbers.

“Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion,” says the U.S. trade representative’s office. “The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.”

The U.S. ran a $12.1 billion deficit with Canada in trade on goods. That was offset by a $24.6 billion surplus in trade of services.

Trump may have been ignoring services — half of the equation on trade — but if so his numbers still don’t match his government’s.

​Critics in Washington

TRUMP on his critics in Washington: “They will lie and leak and smear because they don’t want to accept the results of an election where we won by a landslide.”

THE FACTS: His win was far from a landslide.

His winning margin in the Electoral College is far closer to the narrowest win in history than to the widest.

The final Electoral College margin was Trump 306, Hillary Clinton 232, for a winning percentage of just less than 57 percent. That ranks the 2016 election as the 13th closest of the 58 presidential elections in U.S. history, according to a tally by Claremont McKenna College political scientist John Pitney. Barack Obama won both of his presidential elections with bigger Electoral College margins: 61 percent in 2008 and 62 percent in 2012. Trump’s margin was narrower than all but two of the last 10 presidential elections, those of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

As well, he lost the popular vote to Clinton.

Wealth creation

TRUMP: “Since the election, we have created more than $5 trillion in new economic wealth just in the stock market alone. We’re not including real estate and other values, $5 trillion.”

THE FACTS: According to the Federal Reserve, household wealth has risen by about $5 trillion since the end of last year, but that figure does include home values. Either way, stock ownership is highly concentrated in the United States, so a rising market is mostly benefiting a limited population. Ten percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the value of U.S. stocks in 2016, according to Edward Wolff, an economist at New York University. Median household wealth is still 34 percent below its 2007, prerecession level, Wolff calculates.

Factories coming back

TRUMP: “You know, we have factories pouring back into our country. Did you ever think you would hear that? I used to tell you, that’s going to happen.”

THE FACTS: Factories are not pouring into the country, according to available data. Spending on the construction of factories has dropped 14 percent over the past 12 months. There has been a steady decline in spending on factory construction since the middle of 2015, a trend Trump has yet to reverse despite his claims otherwise.

The existing manufacturing sector, though, has been doing a steady dose of hiring. This appears to reflect the synchronized global growth that has aided a rebound in manufacturing after setbacks in 2016 from a stronger dollar and low energy prices. In November, manufacturing added 31,000 jobs for a gain of 189,000 from a year earlier.

Are wages going up?

TRUMP: “By the way, wages — starting to go up. First time in 20 years — starting to go up. That’s all going to happen.”

THE FACTS: It’s not true that wages haven’t gone up for 20 years.

The latest jobs report shows average hourly earnings up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, roughly the same pace of growth as the year before, when Barack Obama was president. Wages were rising faster in December 2016, up by 2.9 percent. Average hourly wage figures are volatile but they don’t show an upward trend under Trump.

The last time unemployment was this low — in 2000 — that figure was rising at 4 percent.

Inflation-adjusted median household incomes, meantime, have barely budged for several decades.

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