Radical Facts

dictionaryDictionary.com gives me hope.

I’ve received their word of the day for the last decade, because I am a nerd. Over the past few years, they have occasionally sent little articles as well. Mostly innocuous and ignored – quotes from famous writers or where holiday-related terms originated – but I have noticed some more topical stuff popping up as well. I never opened any of it, but after they declared misinformation the word of the year last week, I finally got curious. Were they tipping their hand? Was one of the only popular sources of factual information not discredited by our current government actually taking a subtle stand against the world as it is?

Yeah. I really think so.

Clue #1: Words of the Year since Trump’s election

  • 2018: misinformation
  • 2017: complicit, in an analysis of which they called out Ivanka Trump’s rebuttal that, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit,” as patently wrong. “Whatever your politics, this meaning is not up for debate… being complicit is decidedly negative, as it means that a person is involved with someone or something that’s wrong.”
  • 2016: xenophobia, which they warn is “not to be celebrated,” citing not only fear-mongering Trump quotes and the Brexit phenomenon, but human rights abuse statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Amnesty International. Dictionary.com also enlisted Robert Reich and his giant drawing pad of awesomeness to explain the word. Robert fuckin Reich.

Clue #2: historical & current events

You didn’t know Dictionary.com had a historical & current events section, did you? I have revealed the great secret!  The first three pieces you’ll see if you find your way to this section are:

  • the Great Depression
  • Black Panthers
  • Trail of Tears

Bold choices, especially since the description of the Black Panthers is overwhelmingly positive, and highlights this quote from Claude Wilson of the Daily Tar Heel:

The Black Panthers’ open carry tactics led the then-Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, to enact the Mulford Act, which outlawed the public carrying of loaded firearms. Isn’t it interesting how conservatives suddenly became pro-gun control when it was black people who were open-carrying?

Of the 11 articles in this section, 6 of them refer to atrocities against people of color or the subjugation and abuse of women, including the Salem witch trials, prima nocta, lynching, and Roe v Wade.

Clue #3: Still not convinced that Dictionary.com is part of the resistance? Check out a couple of selections from their in-depth examination of complicity last year [bold type mine]:

President Trump’s statement following the events in Charlottesville in August, in which he said “both sides” were to blame, showed his complicity with ideologies that promote hate, especially directed toward marginalized groups. 

Additionally, the new EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been complicit in his refusal to acknowledge that humans play a primary role in climate change. And, we can’t forget that information on climate change was removed from the government’s website this year, as well. 

We chose our Word of the Year, in part, because of noteworthy stories of those who have refused to be complicit. In the face of oppression and wrongdoing, this refusal to be complicit has been a grounding force of 2017:

  • We saw an estimated five million people participate in the the [sic: Dictionary.com typo!!!] worldwide Women’s March on January 21
  • We saw NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 protest against systemic injustices gain even more traction in response to President Trump calling for players who kneel during the National Anthem to be fired or suspended
  • We saw women, as well as people of all genders, come forward with personal stories of sexual harassment and assault with the hashtag #metoo
  • We saw high-profile resignations from the Trump Administration, perhaps most memorably from the Arts Council, who submitted their letter of resignation in the form of an acrostic spelling of the word RESIST

In just these few articles, Dictionary.com recognizes our President’s alignment with hate groups, anthropogenic climate change, a non-binary range of genders, systemic racism, and praises the resistance to all of it. How excited does this make me!?

Too excited? Should I really be this excited about what are, when it comes down to it, simply facts? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe my standards have dropped too low. But in a week where CNN repeatedly gave toadies for the oil industry a platform to call climate change a greed-driven hoax without questioning their motives, maybe Dictionary.com deserves the time I’ve devoted to this blog post. It makes me happy that the love of words leads to a love of truth, whether than truth is wrongly defined as political or not.


2 thoughts on “Radical Facts

  1. They’re not the only word experts in the resistance. I am also a nerd, and for at least ten years I have purchased the Word Origin calendar written by Gregory McNamee and published annually by Andrews McMeel publishing, which gives a different word origin each day. Definitely notice more political commentary this past year! Very amusing. But he’s pretty subtle about it; it’s not a constant drumbeat, and since it’s published a year in advance it’s not responding to daily craziness. Meanwhile on Twitter, Merriam-Webster trolls the Trump administration constantly and unsubtly. They are hilariously brilliant at it. Merriam-Webster is unmistakably a resistance site on Twitter. I really appreciate these voices cutting through the gaslighting and helping ground us in reality.


    1. That’s great. Though I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, since dictionaries were somewhat political from the beginning, to my recollection. Though I keep thinking of the Devil’s Dictionary, which doesn’t really count.


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