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Lookups spiked 39,000% on January 24, 2019
Tergiversation wended its way back and forth until it was our top lookup on January 24th, 2019. The lookups were largely driven by the word’s use in an article by Washington Post columnist George Will the previous day.
During the government shutdown, Graham’s tergiversations — sorry, this is the precise word — have amazed. On a recent day, in 90 minutes he went from “I don’t know” whether the president has the power to declare an emergency and divert into wall-building funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes, to “Time for President . . . to use emergency powers to build Wall.”
— George Will, The Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2019
We offer two senses for tergiversation: “evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement,” and “desertion of a cause, position, party, or faith” (we leave it to the reader to decide which of these was intended by Will).
Tergiversation may be traced to the Latin words tergum (meaning “back”) and versare (meaning “to turn”). The word has been in use since the first half of the 16th century. Our earliest citation is from a work by Jean Calvin, in which he says some unkind things about the Anabaptists.
One who engages in tergiversation is a tergiversator. The verb form is tergiversate; the adjective is tergiversant.
Therefore thys tergiversation of the Anabaptistes is a blasphemye, which dishonoreth the Lord Iesus, as thoughe he had told us a vayne tale to no purpose. Besides this it is a folyshe imaginacion repugnaunte to humayne sence, as lyttell chyldren maye perceyve.
— Jean Calvin, A short instruction for to arme all good Christian people agaynst the pestiferous errours of the common secte of Anabaptistes, 1549
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.