Trend Watch


Thousands flee Syria looking for safety in Europe


Lookups spiked between September 6–11.


European countries have been called upon by the United Nations to offer aid to hundreds of thousands of fleeing Syrian refugees, though they are struggling in many ways with the influx of people fleeing war. As news about the refugee crisis has spread, people have been talking at length about the difference between a migrant and a refugee, and who can claim to be a refugee.

The word refugee came into English in the 1600s. It was brought into the language by French Protestants who were fleeing religious persecution in France, and it ultimately stems from the Latin refugium, "a place of safety or refuge." The word has been used of various groups of people, from Dust Bowl farmers leaving the Midwest for California in the 1930s, to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It's not always been a welcome label: many of the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina objected to being called "refugees."

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!