Trend Watch

Jared Kushner's Appointment Caused a Spike in Searches for 'Nepotism'

People turned to the dictionary after questions about whether the appointment violated a federal anti-nepotism law

Jared Kushner’s appointment to a senior role in the Trump administration sent many people to the dictionary to look up nepotism.

Nepotism means “favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship,” but its original English meaning reveals the Latin source of the word: “favoritism shown to nephews.” It comes from the Italian word for “nephew,” nepote, going back to the Latin forms nepot-, nepos meaning “grandson” or “nephew.” It was used in a book about papal favoritism to family members and especially nephews, written in Rome in 1667 and entitled Il Nepotismo di Roma; the word spread from Italian to French and then to English.

Unsurprisingly, the earliest uses of nepotism concerned favoritism in religious contexts, especially at the Vatican.

What comparison can be made between the depth of a poor Curtezan, and the gulf of Nepotism?
—Gregorio Leti, Il Putanismo di Roma, or, The history of the Whores and Whoredom of the Popes, Cardinals, and Clergy of Rome, 1670

Having thus Summarily manifested to all the World, that will read and understand the Doctrins and practises of Papists to be so desperately pernicious and destructive to our Protestant Kings and Kingdoms; and withall will consider what most precious Golden Aples England, Scotland and Ireland, with all their Forrein plantations and Dominions, are to gratifie Cardinalisme, Nepotisme, or any incestuous Brood of any Donna Olympia.
—William Denton, The Burnt Child Dreads the Fire, 1675

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the word moved into extended use and began to have regular currency in the broader political realm.

The glaring vice of Nepotism was never so openly practised, so tenaciously adhered to, as by the Greys and their fellow-sinners in the Cabinet.
The Age (London, UK), 28 October 1832

Convened as a popular representative body, it may well be said to have expressed neither the will of the people, nor the will of a party, nor even its own will: and under the mingled influence of some calculation, but more of choice—of desperation, and absurd subserviency to a species of political Nepotism which once before has dictated a successor to the Empire….
The Register (Raleigh, NC), 26 July 1844

It’s in this political context that anti-nepotism laws and statutes have been passed.

Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.

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