Lookups for philanderer spiked 2650% when Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz went on the offensive against the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Trump has been called many things during this campaign season, but Cruz used a new epithet during a stop in Indiana: philanderer.
Listen, Donald Trump is a serial philanderer and he boasts about it. I want everyone to think about your teenage kids. The president of the United States talks about how great it is to commit adultery. How proud he is. Describes his battles with venereal disease as his own personal Vietnam.
It's a curiously poetic word for a particularly unpoetic moment. Philanderer showed up in English in the early 1800s to refer specifically (and with some amount of sarcasm) to a man who has had or attempted to have a number of sexual affairs with women. Our earliest citation for the word comes from a comic opera whose dedication reads, “To philanderers in general, and to some in particular, this opera is respectfully dedicated, by their humble imitator, the author” (Philandering; or, The Rose Queen: A Comic Opera in Three Acts, 13 Jan. 1824). The word is based on the earlier noun philander with the same meaning; that word dates back to the 1600s.
Philander and philanderer come ultimately from the Greek word philandros, which means “loving men.” The Greek word was adapted and used as a name in plays and tales to signal, in one word, a type of stock character—the lover, and then later, the cad.
Our files show that the word philanderer tends to be used only of men, and in recent years, usually of a man who is unfaithful to his wife. This is certainly the sense that Cruz intended.
Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.