Why Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is Trolling Trump

Once upon a time, the dictionary was a dusty old tome that sat on a shelf and served one simple purpose: to define words. It was a noble book, neutral by nature, uncontroversial, and therefore trusted and respected by everyone.

But all of that is changing.

Thanks to Twitter and Trump, America’s dictionary, Merriam-Webster, has transformed itself into a social media troll, regularly courting controversy by mocking the President.

For months, the dictionary’s editors have fired not-so-subtle shots at Trump and his administration, and publications of every political persuasion have noticed, running headlines with the same four words: “Merriam-Webster trolls Trump.”

What exactly is “trolling?” According to Merriam-Webster, to troll means “to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”

So is that what the dictionary is doing? And if so, shouldn’t we all be a bit concerned?

It definitely looks like trolling: The folks at Merriam-Webster have regularly ridiculed Trump for his every spelling mistake, grammatical error, and verbal gaffe. In honor of the election, they changed their header photo to a picture of a German word defined as the “collapse of a society or regime marked by catastrophic violence and disorder.”

They later highlighted what they claimed was their most popular look-up, the word “fascism.”

On Inauguration Day, they simply tweeted “Welp,” a word used to convey dismay or disappointment. When they announced they were adding 1,000 new words, they emphasized one in particular: snollygoster, “a shrewd and unprincipled person, especially an unprincipled politician.”

They’ve needled Betsy DeVos, taunted Sean Spicer, derided Steve Bannon, and stung Kellyanne Conway not once but twice. Most notably, when Conway said she struggles to call herself a feminist because it’s “anti-male and pro-abortion,” a widely-held perception, Merriam-Webster fired back a definition of feminism as simply “the belief that men and women should have equal rights.”

The list goes ever on. Make no mistake, Merriam-Webster has become a political machine.

Of course, that’s not all they are. They’ve made the dictionary look cool, hip and modern. Often, they make the job of lexicography actually look fun. And they’ll tweet about everything from the weather to the World Series to the Oscars.

But when it comes to making fun of politicians, the dictionary’s editors are clearly partisan. They didn’t harass Hillary Clinton, and they don’t needle sports stars, celebrities, or, well . . .  anyone else like they needle the President and his people.

Theoretically, even that could be okay—a good, playful, occasional joke from the dictionary could have the whole country laughing. But if you mock one person too often, you start to reveal a pattern. If that pattern persists, the fun and games lose their light-hearted feel, and begin to betray bias instead.

Already, the dictionary’s string of frequent, focused stings feel less like jokes and more like subtle, systematic attacks. In other words, it’s easy to read between the dictionary’s lines: they don’t like Trump and they’re not afraid to show it.

If Merriam-Webster’s editors aren’t careful, though, they will undermine the very thing that makes their dictionary useful. An accusation of bias is (or should be) a death sentence for a dictionary. All the clever jokes in the world won’t save Merriam-Webster from a widespread perception of political partisanship—and promptly cost them half of their readers.

First, they’ll lose the trust of Trump supporters, then the respect of everyone on the Right, and finally all the folks on the Left, even those who despise Trump the most.

That’s because conservatives and liberals alike will reject as too Orwellian a dictionary perceived as politically charged. It will simply be too hard to convince people that cultural or political bias hasn’t seeped into and soiled the dictionary’s definitions. When it comes to lexicography, credibility depends on impartiality.

Regardless of their political opinions, Americans still expect the dictionary to be objective and neutral, even more than they expect that from the media. So at a time when trust and confidence in America’s mainstream media is practically nonexistent, why would Merriam-Webster even flirt with the appearance of partisanship?

If even the dictionary loses its objectivity, it means politics in America has become entirely inescapable. That’s not just dangerous, it’s sad. It’s unhealthy. It’s not good for a society to be so permeated with politics that there is nowhere to hide.

Of course, Merriam-Webster has every right to do what it wants to do. They can turn themselves into a source of political news, comedy, and commentary if they wish. But America already has enough of that. What America really needs, now more than ever, is something solid that everyone trusts and everyone respects. The dictionary used to have that kind of quiet power. Not anymore.

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  • Terenc Blakely

    The left politicizes everything…. it’s just who they are. It would be less boring if the left had more than two modes of expression…. they either mock or are outraged…. subtlety or originality isn’t their forte.

  • 2+2=4andalwayswill

    According to Sara Hoyt’s theory of “roll hard left and die”, this probably means they are about to go out of business.

  • gridlock2

    M-W hot too political for me about ten years ago. They used to be a top-three site for me, but I have not looked at anything from them for years.

  • NotKennedy

    Brand names have lost credibility and goodwill.

  • Tom

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ is a MUCH better on-line dictionary anyway. M-W is rife with errors.

  • SCWillson

    I use the OED, in print or online.

    With M-W’s antics, so will everyone else.

  • johnholliday

    They seek to suffer as well and suffer they will. You don’t stick the eye of half the country

  • Aaron1960

    How you get more Trump…who won bigly because of politics creeping into every aspect of American life.

    • Adam Weisshaupt

      And then the rank and file leftists ask why everyone is so angry over politics.. gee, could it be that you injected your decisions, preferences and values by fore into areas of human life that are none of your business? Like how I get my medical bills paid, or who I bake cakes for? It was the left who wanted and worked to make the personal political, because it allowed for unprecedented virtue signaling and the ability to bully others into living their way. You see “Live and Let live” unfairly pushes conservative ideas onto them- because conservatives have the idea that they aren’t (collective) property of the state nor the leftists who run it.

      So yeah, leftists. Keep screaming and pushing and rioting. Show us your “virtue” and thereby give us more Trump. And then – maybe, just maybe, engage in some introspection and realize that what you are really angry at is that the government you turned into a weapon is now falling into the hands of the people you treated poorly and condescendingly, without respect for them or their rights. You fear that your personal is about to become political as the people you bullied decide its high time to bully you in return.

  • Nemo

    conservatives and liberals alike will reject as too Orwellian a dictionary perceived as politically charged

    I’m not sure this is a universal truth; there seems an obvious cadre of left-wingers who are only too happy to see once-trustworthy institutions corrupted to suit their personal worldviews – a cadre that’s growing fast via university indoctrination of the gullible and weak-minded.

  • William Gillis

    so, I decided to look up what dictionary. com had for its word of the day (3/9) and, of course, it is ‘newspeak’ from Orwell’s 1984. Still not as bad as M-W, but trying to get there.

  • Man_in_PA

    I’m dumping that app right now.

  • Bryan Townsend

    Which is why you should use Oxford instead.

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  • jjcassidy

    Ha! I went to MW Online to look up their definition of “feminism”. Here, they say it’s simply one unequivocal thing. If that’s so, how come they have TWO definitions?

    1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
    2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

    Thus nothing about the unspecified activity precludes being construed as “anti-men” or “pro-abortion”.

  • McG

    Where have you gone, Funk & Wagnalls? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

  • ursafan40

    I prefer the OED

  • smartsenior

    Draining the swamp is slow going, especially when new swamp critters keep cropping up. I guess we’ll drain these guys when we get around to the educational swampers that are already on the list.

  • richard40

    This is getting pretty bad. it used to be in any political debate, you could look up a word in the dictionary and get an unbiased non politicized definition to use, now it looks like we wont even be able to do that for long.

  • Sardondi

    Merriam-Webster: off my list of sites I will hit.

  • bruce lancaster

    Colliers is superior in every way.

  • Horologium

    Beyond the ridiculous trolling, Merriam-Webster dictionaries should be shunned because they include all sorts of nonsense pronunciations, including some that are simply wrong in every way (and either ignored or pointed as as incorrect by other dictionaries). Giving “ARCH-ee-pel-ago” as an acceptable pronunciation for archipelago (in English) is absurd, and “LIE-berry” for library is beyond the pale. We should not even consider “AK-rit” for accurate acceptable for even a second, but Merriam-Webster sanctions both that and the slightly less offensive (but still entirely wrong) “AK-uh-rit”.

    If Merriam-Webster hasn’t managed to alienate people before with its excessively permissive “standards”, their pandering to leftist ideologues should help to ensure that they will eventually be discarded as a serious reference work.

    • MW is the ebonics dictionary.

    • garretso

      I looked it up and was shocked. If Lie-berry is acceptable, then why not Birf-day?

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  • The OED is the only way to go.

  • Apu Bugolligosh

    F$&k Merrimack-Webster. Liberal a5zholes.