Lookups spiked 2,400% on September 1, 2020
In a speech made on August 31, 2020, Joe Biden used foment as he argued that he would keep Americans safer than President Trump has done:
He can't stop the violence, because for years he's fomented it.
In an editorial in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank published later in the day, Biden's words were cited and foment was used in its title:
Cornered, Trump tries to foment a race war
Foment is a verb that means "to cause or try to cause the growth or development of (something bad or harmful)," and is a synonym of incite.
Foment, paradoxically, comes from a Latin word more connected to healing pain than causing it. The word fomentum meant "compress" ("a folded cloth that is pressed against a part of the body to reduce pain"), and ultimately from fovēre meaning "to heat" or "to soothe."
Over time, the part of the word meaning "to heat" became metaphorically more significant (adding "heat" to a situation makes it worse) than the concrete meaning "to soothe."
Words that are frequently used with foment make it clear that this word is found in contexts of violence and distress. They include:
Trend Watch is a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal. While most trends can be traced back to the news or popular culture, our focus is on the lookup data rather than the events themselves.