Trend Watch


Governor Christie's characterization of President Obama caused the word to spike during the Republican debate

Petulant, used in the phrase "petulant child," jumped to the top of the list of most-searched words during the Republican debate of January 14th, after Chris Christie used these words to describe President Barack Obama.

Petulant comes from a Middle French word meaning "impudent." It began to be used in English at the end of the 16th century, and originally meant "wanton or immodest in speech or behavior." It soon took on the sense of "insolent" or "rude." In the middle of the 18th century petulant took on the meaning most frequently seen today: "ill-humor" or "peevishness."

This is not the first time that Governor Christie has used these words when referring to President Obama. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, he told host Chris Wallace that “this president is a petulant child." And in November of 2015, Christie said "Listen, the president was a petulant child in Turkey."

We have been referring to petulant children for quite some time now. Richard Baxter’s 1673 book, A Christian Directory, is one of the earliest such uses of the phrase:

He is a wretch indeed that will take his food as from his Fathers hand, and throw it in his face, though perhaps a petulant child would do so by a fellow-servant.

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