Trend Watch

Collusion

Though a serious accusation, the word 'collusion' has playful roots


Lookups for collusion and collude spiked on April 26, 2016, following Donald Trump's claim that two of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination were collaborating in an unseemly fashion.

trump-cruz-kasich
Photo: Donald Trump by Marc Nozell, Ted Cruz by Michael Vadon, John Kasich by Gage Skidmore

Trump accused Cruz and Kasich of 'collusion'—a legal term which refers to the act of agreeing or cooperating secretly for a fraudulent or otherwise illegal purpose.

At a campaign rally in Rhode Island, Mr. Trump boasted that his opponents were united against him, and said he welcomed their “collusion.” “Actually I was happy,” he said, “because it shows how weak they are.”
The New York Times, 25 April 2016

Collusion is an ugly word. In his statement, Trump said that “collusion is often illegal in many other industries,” which is true, in terms of price-fixing and other antitrust violations, but politics is not one of those industries.
—Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 5 April 2016

Both collusion and collude are used as legal terms. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law defines collude as "to agree or cooperate secretly for a fraudulent or otherwise illegal purpose," and both words also have a broader application, which does not necessarily refer to fraudulent or illegal actions. Trump’s charges of collusion could, therefore, be interpreted as an assertion that laws were being broken, or simply that he felt his opponents were not playing by the rules.

The words come from the Latin word colludere, which can mean "to act in collusion with," or "to play with"; colludere is formed from ludere, which means "to play." The playful sense of collude and collusion did not survive the transition from Latin to English; one 17th century lexicographer, Thomas Blount, did define collusion as "a playing together," but this was likely either wishful thinking or a mistake on his part. However, the playful roots of the word may be found in other examples of English vocabulary, such as ludicrous (the original meaning of which was "relating to, characterized by, or designed for play or amusement"), ludic, and delude ("to deceive, trick").

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