Merriam-Webster says the impeachment trial of President Trump is a “linguistic cornucopia” and it’s sent people running to their dictionaries.
Most recently, the word “pettifogger” trended after Chief Justice John Roberts used it as an example of a word that was considered out of bounds in a 1905 Senate trial.
Lookups spiked 30,800% on Wednesday, according to the merriam-webster.com Trend Watch feature. The underlying numbers behind that percentage increase weren’t posted.
The words “temerity” (which saw a 2,600 percent spike) and “dilatory” (7,100 percent) also were featured on Trend Watch in recent days.
Chief Justice Roberts used “pettifogging” when he admonished both House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s defense team after a particularly tense exchange between House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, an impeachment manager, and the defense.
“In the 1905 Swain trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word ‘pettifogging’ and the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we need to aspire to that high of a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.”
The dictionary said the word “pettifogger” can mean “a lawyer whose methods are petty, underhanded, or disreputable; shyster” or “one given to quibbling over trifles.” Someone who “pettifogs” is someone who engages in legal chicanery or quibbles over details.
The dictionary went way, way back to find a use of the word, citing Henri Estienne’s “The Stage of Popish Toyes” from 1581. Estienne wrote, “And now, seing his auntient and opposite enimie the Pope, hath foysted in among us Petifoggers, who (like sheete stealers, tinckers, or Connyskin buyers) creepe in corners to utter their trash.”
“Temerity” trended after White House counsel Pat Cipollone accused House impeachment manager Adam Schiff of it.
“Temerity spiked in lookups [Tuesday], courtesy of the linguistic cornucopia that is the impeachment trial of Donald Trump,” the dictionary said.
The dictionary said “temerity” means an “unreasonable or foolhardy contempt of danger or opposition” or “a rash or reckless act.”
“Dilatory” trended Tuesday after House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats had no intention to be dilatory in pushing for a string of amendments to the rules proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (though they did stretch it into a marathon session).
“Dilatory” means either “tending or intended to cause delay” or “characterized by procrastination,” according to the dictionary.
The Trend Watch feature is “a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal on Merriam-Webster.com. Word lookups are often driven by news events, sports, movies, and pop culture,” Meghan Lunghi, director of marketing at Springfield-based Merriam-Webster Inc. said in an e-mail.
As of Thursday, there was still continued interest in “pettifogging/pettifogger," she said, “but no big spikes other than that yet today.”
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