Trend Watch

'Unwitting' and 'Hoax' Spike After Russians' Indictments

Lookups for 'unwitting' rose 22,000%

Lookups for unwitting spiked on February 16th, 2018 following the announcement of the indictments of thirteen Russian nationals, charged by special council Robert Mueller with interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Part of the text of the indictment read:

Some defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.

Unwitting means “not knowing” or “not intended” and is a synonym of unaware and inadvertent. Witting is a survivor of the Middle English verb witen, meaning “to know,” a verb that is otherwise no longer used in English. It is also the root of the word wit meaning “intelligence,” “sanity,” or “thinker.” The adverb form unwittingly is more commonly used.

Another word that spiked following the unveiling of indictments was hoax, which we define as “an act intended to trick or dupe” and “something accepted or established by fraud or fabrication.”

Nonetheless, the indictment seriously undermines President Trump's repeated contention that the entire Russia investigation is a "hoax" or "witch hunt." It details specific activities the Russians took, initially focused mostly on creating general discord in the U.S., but eventually focused specifically on boosting Trump's campaign.
— David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, 16 Feb. 2018

Hoax, which is believed to have been formed as a contraction of hocus, is of a vintage considerably more recent than unwitting. It appears to have been used first as a verb, in late 18th century British university slang, several years before seeing use as a noun.

Some of his English exercises, and his verses, will not be easily forgotten.—And it will be remembered also, in a laughable way, that he was as mischievous as a gentleman need be—the mobbing a vulgar—the hoaxing a quizz….all these, were among Jekyl’s early peculiarities, and raised his fame very high for spirit and cleverness.
The World (London, Eng.), 12 Jun. 1787

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