The 2016 Election-Related Words We're Looking Up In The Dictionary, And What They Say About Us


Confession: I haven't watched a single debate all the way through this entire election season. I can't. It causes me physical pain. But while I glean most of my information from next-day recaps, I'm still fascinated by the ongoing presidential race overall. So was Merriam-Webster, who recently compiled a list of the 2016 election-related words we're looking up in the dictionary. Because, you know, everything is digital now. Isn't this a wild time to be alive?

The majority of the words that have been trending on the online dictionary's site have been sparked by a specific event. "Disavow," for example, soared to the top five most searched words on Merriam-Webster's site after Donald Trump initially refused to repudiate an endorsement from David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. "Caucus" was another hugely searched word, though the reason for that is probably much more obvious. Trump has performed particularly in the caucuses, and perhaps for the first time, voters are becoming increasingly aware of what, exactly, is going on past simply the casting of a ballot.

Here are some of the most searched, election-related words from the past few months. Learn anything? I definitely did. Head on over to Merriam-Webster for the full list.

1. Disavow

Disavow means “to refuse to acknowledge or accept” or “to deny responsibility for.”

The word began spiking on Merriam-Webster last week, after Trump initially refused to disavow the endorsement of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard. After facing serious backlash, Trump blamed a faulty earpiece and eventually tweeted, "I disavow."

2. Caucus

Though a caucus more generally means "a meeting of the members of a legislative body who are members of a particular political party, to select candidates or decide policy," in the American political system and the presidential election, they tend to function very similarly to a party primary (when members of a political party decide, by casting votes, who they want to

As the Iowa Caucus played out on Feb.1, people increasingly began to wonder what, exactly, a caucus was, and why Hillary's win was seen as such an important step in her path to the candidacy.

2. Pundit

A pundit is "an expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called on to give opinions about it to the public." Sometimes referred to as "talking heads," pundits are usually all over the media's political coverage.

After Trump's victory at the Nevada Caucus on Feb, 23, articles and headlines have increasingly called into question the ability of pundits to predict or even make sense of the evolving political landscape in the United States, particularly Trump's continued domination of the polls.

4. Amnesty

Amnesty is most often used to mean "a general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses against a government."

Amnesty, or, more specifically, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, became a hot-button issue throughout the GOP debates, with look-ups for the word first spiking in late January. During the Jan. 28 GOP debate, candidates continually accused one another of leniency towards paths to citizenship.

5. Pharisaism

Pharisaism refers to a 1st century sect of Judaism who Jesus criticized for an interpretation of the law that leaves no room for empathy, forgiveness or human decency. While this word can probably be used to describe a whole lot of prominent political figures, it has been used most prominently in reference to Ted Cruz.

In a recent column entry, entitled "The Brutalism of Ted Cruz," New York Times writer David Brooks writes, "Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy." The Haley case refers to Michael Wayne Haley, who was arrested in 1997 for stealing a calculator from Wal-Mart, incorrectly prosecuted under a habitual offender law, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Cruz, who was the solicitor general of Texas, took the case to the Supreme Court in order to ensure Haley stayed in prison for the full 16 years.

6. Mano a mano

Despite the way it sounds, mano a mano does not actually mean "face to face." The standard definition of the word is “in direct competition or conflict especially between two people," derived from the Spanish phrase for "hand to hand."

In late January, Trump announced that he would be skipping a GOP debate. Cruz responded by challenging Trump to a one-on-one debate, saying “I’m happy to go an hour and a half mano a mano, me and Donald with no moderators any time before the Iowa caucuses.” That never happened, and Cruz ended up winning the 2016 Iowa Caucus.

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