Trending: j'accuse

Lookups spiked 7,000% on June 3, 2020

Why are people looking up j'accuse?

A French borrowing had a moment at the top of our lookups on June 3rd, 2020, after The Atlantic published a letter from retired Marine general and former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who reacted to President Trump's words and actions regarding protesters. The magazine referred to the letter as an "extraordinary condemnation," and editor Jefferey Goldberg, in his introduction to the text by Mattis, wrote:

In his j’accuse, Mattis excoriates the president for setting Americans against one another.

What does j'accuse mean?

J'accuse, pronounced /zhah-KYOOZ/, is French for "I accuse" and is used in English to mean "bitter denunciation."

Where does j'accuse come from?

J'accuse carries significant cultural weight: it was used by the French novelist Émile Zola as the title of his open letter addressing the French army's conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer accused of treason. Dreyfus was later found to be innocent, and the Dreyfus affair is an important episode in the history of European anti-Semitism. Zola's defense of Dreyfus and search for the truth was an important and very public part of the story.

Zola's letter was addressed to the French president.

What is notable about this use of j'accuse?

J'accuse is entered in our dictionary as a frequently encountered foreign term, but its use in The Atlantic was as a noun meaning accusation. It's possible that this term will be defined in this way in the future, if this kind of use becomes more common. J'accuse was also used in descriptions of the 2017 testimony of former FBI Director James Comey.

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.

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