It’s been a head-spinning week of political news after a whistleblower complaint accused President Donald Trump of abusing his power and reignited Washington’s impeachment drama.
It seems like our favorite wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster are paying attention. They have, over the past week, included words in their popular Word of the Day online feature that could be linked to the impeachment narrative, though they say their picks are coincidental to the headlines.
Here are their selections:
‘Misprision’ and ‘axiomatic’
As the controversy over the whistleblower complaint was heating up last Saturday, the Word of the Day was “misprision.” Merriam-Webster lists three definitions for this noun, and any could be discussed as part of the brewing political storm:
1. neglect or wrong performance of official duty;
2. concealment of treason or felony by one who is not a participant in the treason or felony;
3. seditious conduct against the government or the courts.
Then, as it started to come out that Trump had put military aid for Ukraine on hold before his phone call with Ukraine’s President (which became the subject of the whistleblower’s complaint), Tuesday’s Word of the Day was “axiomatic,” which means self-evident.
While Trump has denied a link between the delay in aid and the phone call, some of the President’s critics have described a connection as, well, self-evident.
‘Lèse-majesté’ and ‘cleave’
The White House soon released a rough transcript of the President’s call with Ukraine’s leader, which many political observers claimed shows that Trump essentially asked a foreign government for help in getting dirt on a political rival.
Wednesday’s Word of the Day? Lèse-majesté, a noun that means a crime committed against a sovereign power, or in a second definition, an offense violating the dignity of a ruler as the representative of a sovereign power.
On Thursday, the whistleblower complaint was finally released to the public. And, in a surprise to absolutely no one, political players divided themselves along partisan lines in their reactions.
Some Democrats saw a smoking gun in the document, while some Republicans insisted there was nothing to see there at all.
Merriam-Webster’s Friday Word of the Day was “cleave.” One of its definitions is “to separate (something) into distinct parts and especially into groups having divergent views.”
Not the first time
If the Word of the Day matches the political conversation of the day, that’s just a coincidence, Merriam-Webster says.
“The Word of the Day selections for a given month are chosen weeks in advance so that editors have a chance to write and edit the pieces,” said Meghan Lunghi, Merriam-Webster’s director of marketing.
This isn’t the first time words have collided with politics in the dictionary-purveyors’ universe.
“Justice” was the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year for 2018, which was dominated by headlines about then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump; Brett Kavanaugh’s tense hearings in Congress; and the fight for social, racial and gender equality.
Searches for the words “racism,” “socialism,” “fascism,” “concentration camp,” “xenophobia” and “bigot” spiked in July in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. During a Trump rally around that time in North Carolina, some of the President’s supporters chanted “send her back” after Trump verbally attacked an American Muslim congresswoman.