Trend Watch

DOJ Describes Comey as 'Insubordinate'

Lookups rise 15,600% after report

Lookups for insubordinate spiked sharply on June 14th, 2018, following a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general about the conduct of former FBI director James Comey. The report found “no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” but went on to criticize Comey’s actions:

We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors, the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same.

Insubordinate means “disobedient to authority,” and is a relatively recent addition to the English language. It is a negation of subordinate, from the Latin word subordinare meaning “to place in a lower order.” Subordinate developed the meaning “submissive to or controlled by authority” in the 15th century in English, but use of insubordinate initially meant simply “not subordinate” without the notion of disobedience:

In the mean time, the usurped exercise of this his Ecclesiastick power, where he had no jurisdiction, as a power standing insubordinate to the Prince, hath begotten that great mistake, That there might be a Church in a Church, that is, one Christian Commonwealth in another.
— John Hall, The True Cavalier, 1656

Later, the word shifted to include the idea of outright disobedience:

And this army of undisciplined and insubordinate soldiers are to be paid with depreciated paper!
The Times (London, Eng.), 2 Jan. 1792

This more forceful meaning of the word has taken hold and displaced the earlier more neutral meaning, and is used especially in circumstances that express disorder in hierarchies.

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