At least if Americans aren't sure what "socialism" actually means, they're bothering to look it up.
Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster Inc. announced its annual list of the Top Ten Words of the Year, and thanks to a presidential campaign in which people tossed around economic theories as political attacks, "socialism" and "capitalism" share this year's top spot.
"Socialism saw its largest lookup spikes during coverage of healthcare but also saw peaks in the days following both conventions and each of the presidential debates," a press release said. "Capitalism, although looked up somewhat less often, rode the same waves of interest."
"With socialism and capitalism, it's clear that many people turned to the dictionary to help make sense of the commentary that often surrounds these words," Merriam-Webster president and publisher John M. Morse said.
Socialism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, "refers to governmental ownership and administration of the production and distribution of goods." President Obama, in particular, is often the target of accusations of socialism, and though his policies trend away from the bootstrapping individualism advocated by many Republicans, they aren't actually socialism.
Obama's tax policy relies on the same progressive approach that has been the cornerstone of American tax policy since the federal government first collected an income tax in 1863, an approach embraced by Republicans and Democrats. It was based on the Tax Act of 1862, which President Abraham Lincoln signed, and which imposed a "duty of three per centum" on all income over $600, and five percent on income over $10,000.
The idea is that the wealthy pay a larger share of their income because they are more able to afford it. To the extent the government then gives some of the money to the less-wealthy through various programs, you could say the income is being redistributed. But that concept has been embraced by Republicans and Democrats for well over a century.
That's a far cry from true socialism, which is defined as support for "governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.
It seems like people curious about the debate over same-sex marriage turned to the dictionary to check the oft-used claim that heterosexual unions are "the traditional definition of marriage.." "Marriage" came in at No. 4 on this year's list--and Merriam-Webster takes a progressive stance, with a two-part definition that includes both opposite-sex and same-sex unions.
Rounding out the top ten: