Congratulations, red-scaredy-cats! You won the dictionary this week. I hope you’re happy.

The Oxford English Dictionary has just added cultural Marxism to its records. And that’s a big victory for a lot of people who fearmonger about cultural Marxism but probably don’t even understand what it is. Not because they can now look up the term — rather, the term’s addition to the dictionary means it has gained enough cultural currency that it warrants a definition. People who are worried about cultural Marxism washing over vulnerable, patriotic capitalists talked about it enough that dictionary editors finally took notice.

What is cultural Marxism, and why now, more than 80 years after the term first appeared in print?

The OED’s primary definition is worth reading in full: “Used depreciatively, chiefly among right-wing commentators: a political agenda advocating radical social reform, said to be promoted within western cultural institutions by liberal or left-wing ideologues intent on eroding traditional social values and imposing a dogmatic form of progressivism on society. Later also more generally: a perceived left-wing bias in social or cultural institutions, characterized as doctrinaire and pernicious.”

Those qualifiers speak volumes: “Used depreciatively,” “said to be promoted,” “perceived left-wing bias,” “characterized as.” The OED isn’t saying that cultural Marxism is all of these things, but rather that it’s perceived and presented as such. In other words, the people using this term probably have an agenda, so watch out.

Though its earliest documented usage was in 1938, the term scarcely appeared until the late 1960s. For a long time, it was an academic curiosity, employed mainly in esoteric discussions of political theory. Usage didn’t peak until the early 1980s, and then twice more: first, in the early 2000s, when the Southern Poverty Law Center identified it as “a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist … being pushed by much of the American right,” including latter-day McCarthyites Pat Buchanan, William Lind, and others.

And its most recent peak is right now, as the term cultural Marxism has been invoked of late by totalitarian enthusiasts from Ron Paul (whose staffer tweeted a racist cartoon about cultural Marxism), to fired Trump aide Rich Higgins, to the son of strongman Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Those peaks represent a crossover: when the term jumped from abstruse academic theory to popular consumption.

The last few years have seen a similar journey for critical race theory, a once-obscure academic topic that has become an accelerant at every small-town school board meeting in America. That term isn’t even in the OED … yet.

Dictionaries often don’t agree when a word warrants its own entry. Cultural Marxism is in the OED but not Merriam-Webster’s; critical race theory is in Merriam-Webster’s but not the OED. Dictionary.com, which relies primarily on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, added critical race theory just last year, but it doesn’t have cultural Marxism. (No lexicographers take Dictionary.com seriously — it’s like the Applebee’s of dictionaries — but it’s popular, so its new inclusion of CRT is newsworthy.)

» READ MORE: School board meetings turn tense with debates over critical race theory and masking

Moreover, adding a dictionary definition doesn’t just mean a term is common — it means that term needs a definition to keep it from being misconstrued and repurposed for nefarious aims.

As has happened with critical race theory at a thousand overheated school board meetings.

In that case, as with cultural Marxism, the words say more about their users than their objects. Those red-faced screamers are a more terrifying red scare than any nebulous Marxist ideas ever could be.

The Grammarian, otherwise known as Jeffrey Barg, looks at how language, grammar, and punctuation shape our world, and appears biweekly. Send comments, questions, and die Sprachlehre to jeff@theangrygrammarian.com.

Read more from The Grammarian

Now more than ever, you need to know these 9 phrases to avoid like the plague in 2022

Two little letters that could skew the Pa. Senate race

One word that might’ve convicted Kyle Rittenhouse