Trend Watch

Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence

Obama has now granted more commutations than any other president in U.S. history

Lookups for commute and commutation spiked following news of President Obama’s order to reduce the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning.

Commute means “to change (a punishment) to a less severe one.” It comes from the Latin verb commutare, meaning “to change” or “to exchange,” and its ultimate root, mutare, is also the source of mutate. Commute meaning “to travel back and forth regularly” is a different sense of the same word; its origins come from the notion of “exchanging” one location for another.

The corresponding noun for the “punishment” meaning, commutation, means “a change of a punishment to a less severe one.” A commutation is not a pardon.

The New York Times used the verb in its headline:

Obama Commutes Bulk of Chelsea Manning’s Sentence

The same article also used the noun:

Now, under the terms of Mr. Obama’s commutation announced by the White House on Tuesday, Ms. Manning is set to be freed on May 17 of this year, rather than in 2045.
—Charlie Savage, The New York Times, 17 January 2017

Lookups for clemency also spiked following the announcement. Clemency means “merciful treatment of someone who could be given harsh punishment." It comes from the Latin word that means "mild" or "gentle."

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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