Trump Calls Congressional Investigation a ‘Witch Hunt’

Lookups spiked after the president used the phrase in a tweet

Lookups for witch hunt increased 2453% after the president called the congressional investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia "a witch hunt."

President Trump said on Friday that Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser who resigned last month over his contacts with Russian officials, should ask for immunity from prosecution in the congressional investigation into the presidential campaign’s ties to Moscow. Mr. Trump called the inquiry a “witch hunt” by the news media and Democrats.
—Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2017

The word has both a literal and a figurative use; people did not begin using it literally to refer to a search for actual witches until well after one might imagine. The literal meaning seems to have entered the language in the late 19th century, typically in reference to the Salem Witch trials of the late 17th century.

The figurative sense, which is the one most often encountered today, seems to have begun in the early 20th century, and frequently describes a form of political overreaction or hysteria.

Your recent editorial in which you quite sensibly caution the American people against a “witch hunt for Fascists” was a needed contribution to the discussion of Fascist activities which have recently been filling the press.
—C. H. Huntington (letter)The Baltimore Sun, 25 Oct., 1927

If she has gone too far in her witch hunt for Reds, it is largely their fault.
The Pittsburgh Press, 23 Aug. 1929

Mr. Roosevelt has belittled his own intelligency by signing up for this witch-hunt.
The Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT), 4 Nov. 1932

Trend Watch tracks and reports on the words that people are looking up. You can see all the 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!