Comey Asks Justice Department to Refute Wiretapping Claim

'To deny the truth or accuracy of'

Lookups for refute spiked on March 6, 2017 after FBI director James Comey directed the Justice Department to publicly reject President Trump’s claim that President Obama had ordered phone lines at Trump Tower to be tapped during last year’s election campaign. Refute was used in many headlines and articles reporting the story, such as this one from The Washington Post:

FBI Director Comey asked Justice officials to refute Trump’s unproven wiretapping claim

Refute means “to prove wrong by argument or evidence,” “to show to be false or erroneous,” and can also mean “to deny the truth or accuracy of.” It comes from the French verb refuter which traces back to the Latin verb refutare, meaning “to check,” “to suppress,” or “to refute.” The Latin root -futare meant “to beat” and is also the origin of the related word, confute, which means “to overwhelm in argument” or “to refute conclusively.”

The original meaning of refute, “to prove wrong” or “to show to be false or erroneous” (as in “The lawyer refuted the testimony of the witness”), dates to the early 1500s. The meaning used in this instance, “to deny” (as in “They refuted the allegations against them”) first appeared in the late 1800s and is sometimes considered a mistake by usage commentators. This use is very common, however, and is frequently used by journalists in reporting the emphatic denials issued by those accused of wrongdoing.

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