‘We don’t enter that one’: Merriam-Webster couldn’t tackle Trump’s latest remark

Mandatory Credit: Photo by JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9318650a) Donald J. Trump Trump signs proclomation honoring Martin Luther King, Washington, USA - 12 Jan 2018 US President Donald J. Trump speaks before signing a proclamation to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA 12 January 2018. The President did not respond to shouted questions about whether he is a racist, in response to his referring to Haiti and African countries as 'shitholes.'
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
President Trump’s remark set off a firestorm. But Merriam-Webster couidn’t help -- because the word isn’t in its dictionaries.

When an unfamiliar word crops up suddenly as a national news story breaks, sending people scrambling to their dictionaries to decipher the term, Merriam-Webster is typically quick on the draw, offering readers a digestible definition as searches spike dramatically on its website.

But on Thursday night, when the Washington Post reported that Trump uttered the word “shithole” to describe Haiti and African nations, during a bipartisan meeting about immigration reform, the company could only sit back and watch.

“Well, [poop emoji],” the company, which has become something of an online celebrity for its use of social media, especially during Trump’s first year in office, said on Twitter. “We don’t enter that one.”


It’s true.

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Trending words associated with Trump’s time in office that Merriam-Webster has helped readers understand include “dossier,” “bigly,” and “dotard.” But “shithole” just isn’t there. (It does appear in other dictionaries, however.)

A search on the company’s website brings up this message: “The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.” It instead offers alternative searches like “suithold” and “spilehole.”

Trump’s use of the word, which came the day before the eighth anniversary of Haiti’s deadly earthquake, sparked a firestorm of controversy and once again raised troubling questions about the president’s views on race and immigration. The incident also echoed similar comments Trump made last summer with Cabinet members and White House staff, according to the New York Times.

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, said while the offensive word was certainly on everyone’s mind this week, and searches for it were fervent based on data the company tracks, there hadn’t previously been enough evidence to justify adding it in.


The company includes words in its lexicon that are commonly used in print — and before “shithole” got splashed on everything from the Washington Post’s website to CNN, it didn’t warrant an entry.

“We often have what you might call a skewed view of linguistic reality. If there’s any kind of censorship, it’s not on our end, it’s on the producers of text of the news,” he said. “The dictionary is a reflection of the language as it’s used in writing for wide audiences.”

But after Trump’s latest kerfuffle, he added, that could change things for “shithole.”

“It might well go in,” he said.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear. Globe correspondent Natasha Mascarenhas contibuted to this report.