Trend Watch

Trump: 'American Carnage'

Searches for 'carnage' spiked after Trump used the word in an unusual way

Carnage (“great and usually bloody slaughter or injury, as in battle”) spiked in lookups on January 20th, 2017, following President Donald Trump’s use of the word in his inauguration speech.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
The Washington Post (transcript), 20 Jan. 2017

The word came into English directly from French, a language which took it from the Latin carnaticum (“tribute consisting of animals or meat”). Carnage has been in use in English since the late 16th century; our earliest recorded instance of it comes from Richard Mulcaster’s 1582 work, Elementarie, in which it appears, undefined, in a list of English words. Shortly after we find evidence of carnage being used, with the sense of “great slaughter.”

Ser. Sulpitius being not able to defend his campe any longer against the multitude of the mountaine people, that assaulted it: sallied forth vpon a sudden at all the gates thereof, and surprising his enemies on a sudden made a great carnage of them, & put the rest to flight.
—Mathew Sutcliffe, The Practice, Proceedings, and Lawes of Armes, 1593

Trump’s use of the word was a decidedly figurative one, as he appeared to not be referring to actual bloodshed, but rather to what he feels is a social and economic desolation.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
The Washington Post (transcript), 20 Jan. 2017

This figurative sense of the word is one of its more recent ones; it began to be used in this manner in the middle of the 19th century.

Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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