Trend Watch

Sessions Says He Will Recuse Himself from Clinton Matters

From the Anglo-French word 'recuser' (“to refuse”)

Recuse (“to remove (oneself) from participation to avoid a conflict of interest”) spiked in lookups on January 10th, following reports that Senator Jeff Sessions, recently nominated for the position of Attorney General, said he would recuse himself from matters pertaining to Hillary Clinton.

If confirmed as attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions would recuse himself from any Justice Department investigations of Hillary Clinton’s email practices or her family’s charitable foundation.
—Matt Zapotosky and Sari Horwitz, The Washington Post, 10 Jan. 2017

Although recuse is an old word, dating back to the 14th century, the sense in which it is currently most common (and the one referenced above) is fairly recent. The original meanings of recuse were concerned with refusing or rejecting something, and when initially used in a judicial capacity had the meaning of “to challenge or object to (as a judge) as having prejudice or a conflict of interest.” It was not until the early 19th century that the word began to be used in with the meaning of “to disqualify oneself.”

Recuse comes to English from the Anglo-French word recuser (“to refuse”), and can be traced from there back to the Latin causari, meaning “to give a reason.”

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