Trend Watch

'I Don't Think He's Ideological,' Obama Said

Lookups for 'ideologue', 'ideological', and 'ideology' spiked after Obama's comments

A triumvirate of ideo- words spiked on the evening of November 14th, and through the following morning, as comments made by Barack Obama about president-elect Donald Trump sent many people to the dictionary in search of the precise meanings of ideologue, ideology, and ideological.

Obama Says Donald Trump Will Be Driven by Pragmatism Not Ideology as President
The Wall Street Journal (headline), 15 Nov. 2016

In Washington, President Obama stressed the importance of a peaceful transition, He described Mr. Trump as a “pragmatist” rather than an ideologue.
—Karen Zraick and Sandra Stevenson, The New York Times, 14 Nov. 2016

”I don’t think he’s ideological,” Obama said. “I think ultimately, he is pragmatic.”
—Oliver Darcy,, 14 Nov. 2016

All three of these come to English from the French word idéologue, which it itself a back-formation from idéologie. They all appear to have entered our language at close to the same time, within a couple of decades of each other, around the end of the 18th century. The earliest use of the French word idéologie is credited to the French writer A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, who had proposed it as a useful term in referring to the “science of ideas.”

An ideologue is "an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology." Ideology, in turn, means "a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture; a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture; the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program." It would appear, given the context in which President Obama employed ideological, that he was intending the word to be interpreted in one of its newer senses, which indicates an unwavering or uncompromising adherence to a set of beliefs or ideas.

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