Dawkins, reached at home in Oxford, was tickled by the dictionary shoutout.
“I’m very pleased that it’s one of the 10 words that got picked out,” he said. “I’m delighted. I hope it may bring more people to understand something about evolution.”
The book in which he used meme for the first time is mostly about the gene as the primary unit of natural selection, or the Darwinian idea that only the strongest survive. In the last chapter, he said, he wanted to describe some sort of cultural replicator.
And he wanted a word that sounded like “gene,” so he took a twist on the Greek mimeme, which is the origin of “mime” and “mimesis,” a scientific term meaning imitation.
“It’s a very clever coinage,” lauded the lexicographer Sokolowski.
Other words in Merriam-Webster’s Top 10 for 2012:
_ Touche, thanks in part to “Survivor” contestant Kat Edorsson misusing the word to mean “tough luck” rather than “point well made,” before she was voted off the island in May. Look-ups at Merriam-webster.com were up sevenfold this year over 2011.
_ Schadenfreude, made up of the German words for “damage” and “joy,” meaning taking pleasure in the misery of others, was used broadly in the media after the election. Look-ups increased 75 percent. The word in English dates to 1895.
_ Professionalism, up 12 percent this year over last. Sokolowski suspects the bump might have been due to the bad economy and more job seekers, or a knowing “glimpse into what qualities people value.”
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