November 21, 2016
No words for a Trump presidency? Here are a few
by Ryan Harrington
We here at MobyLives had a good bit of fun tracking trends in online Merriam-Webster searches during the 2016 race for the White House. We enjoyed a chuckle when Donald Trump reached for the word “braggadocio” during that most memorable first debate. Then, during that creepily memorable second debate, we watched the words “demagogue” and “locker-room” become the dictionary’s most-searched.
Those were simpler times, when we were sure that each of these words would be a cobblestone on the path to Trump’s undoing. Indeed, we thought every word the candidate uttered floated through the air like a winged messenger foretelling his defeat. Of course we were wrong. And now each word sounds like a terrifyingly real brick in a wall around our country.
And in that spirit, we turn once again to the venerable dictionary publisher to see what the latest trends in lookups.
Last week, the word “Realpolitik” spiked when President Barack Obama told a crowd in Berlin that he hoped the United States would not develop a realpolitik approach with Russia. (That word, by the way, means “a system of politics based on a country’s situation and its needs rather than on ideas about what is morally right and wrong.”)
After the appointment of card-carrying white supremacist and world-class turkey (I draw here on the word’s fourth definition, “a stupid, foolish, or inept person”) Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist, Merriam-Webster saw a surge in searches for the word “nationalism.” Our sample context comes, again, courtesy of Obama, this time warning us “to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an us and a them.” The dictionary defines nationalism as “a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries.”
And last, a CBS interview between Charlie Rose and Jon Stewart stoked an increase in lookups of the word “monolith.” Originally meaning “a single great stone, often in the form of an obelisk or column,” the word is now more often used figuratively to mean “a single unified powerful or influential force.” This is how Stewart used it, suggesting that we can not think of all Trump voters as a homogenous body, just as we absolutely cannot think of all Muslims that way.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.