The Exchange

Socialism and Capitalism: America Seeks to Define

Adam Smith vs. Karl Marx
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Adam Smith vs. Karl Marx. A mural by artists Jonathan Matas and Zach Rockstad in in the Lower East side of Manhattan, New York City.

Merriam-Webster announced on Wednesday the top 10 words of the year, based on  how many times they were looked up at Merriam-Webster.com. The list "sheds light on topics and ideas that sparked the nation's interest in 2012."

Two words shared the top spot:

"Socialism" and "Capitalism"

"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," according to a release. "Capitalism, although looked up somewhat less often, rode the same waves of interest."

What can we conclude from that?  "A very sarcastic answer would be 'Democrat' or 'Republican,'" says Paul Nolte, managing director of Dearborn Partners. "Unfortunately, the search indicates very little in the way of middle ground where compromises actually happen."

Perhaps one doesn't have to read too many fiscal cliff headlines to know what he means.

"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," says John M. Morse, president and publisher at Merriam-Webster. Interestingly, the list also included "democracy," the fifth-most-looked-up word in 2012.

Other words that might take you back to the debates were "malarkey" and "meme," which spiked when the internet was flooded with parodies following Mitt Romney's much-maligned phrase "whole binders full of women."

Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster announced some new additions to the 2012 update of its Collegiate Dictionary. They included a few words from the finance world as well, including "underwater" (think mortgages) and "systemic risk." The list also included "f-bomb" and "aha moment" -- coincidence?

Any words that you're surprised didn't make Merriam-Webster's most searched for list? And how many of this year's words can you fit in a (PG-rated) sentence? Let us know in the comment section below.

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