Trend Watch

Shellacking

When:

Lookups spiked on November 3, 2010, after midterm election results were reported.

Why:

President Obama used the word when acknowledging that Democratic losses provided humbling lessons:

"Now, I'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night. I'm sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons."

A shellacking is a decisive defeat.

The word comes from the combination of "shell" and "lacquer" -- a shellac is a type of lacquer that becomes as hard as a shell.

But how did shellacking acquire the sense that President Obama used?

It seems that shellac had come to mean both "to get drunk" and "to beat up" as a slang term by the 1930s, and one (or both) of these senses led to the "defeat decisively" meaning used today.

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May 30, 2015
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