The Words of the Week - Aug. 11

Dictionary lookups from SCOTUS, politics, and the Alabama docks
boat dock in alabama


Aspirational spiked in lookups last week, after a lawyer representing Donald Trump stated that this word described the nature of the attempts by the former president to delay certification of the 2020 election.

John Lauro, one of Donald Trump’s attorneys in the federal case over his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, vehemently defended the former president against allegations Trump knowingly spread false claims of election fraud to remain in power and claimed Trump's efforts were merely "aspirational," not criminal.
— Ken Tran, USA Today, 6 Aug. 2023

Aspirational is “of, relating to, or characterized by aspiration," and aspiration may be defined in several different ways: “a strong desire to achieve something high or great,” “the act of breathing and especially of breathing in,” or “audible breath that accompanies or comprises a speech sound.” Aspiration comes from a Latin word, aspirare, meaning “to breathe upon,” which itself is formed in part from spirare, meaning “to breathe.” Spirare serves as the root of a number of other words in English, including (but not limited to) inspire, conspire, and transpire.


Also trending in lookups from coverage of Donald Trump and the most recent presidential election was the word memo.

Previously Secret Memo Laid Out Strategy for Trump to Overturn Biden’s Win
— (headline) The New York Times, 8 Aug. 2023

A memo is “a usually brief written message or report.” The word is a shortening of memorandum, which comes to English from a Latin word, spelled the same way, meaning “to be remembered.” If you have need to refer to multiple brief written messages or reports, memorandum may be pluralized in two ways: memoranda or memorandums. If you are pluralizing the shorter word, however, the only common form is memos.


An riverside eruption of fisticuffs, involving numerous parties, caused the word brawl to appear in a considerable number of news stories.

Two more men have been arrested in connection with a brawl along the Montgomery, Alabama, riverfront that went viral after being caught on video by several bystanders.
— Jordan Freiman, CBS News, 9 Aug. 2023

Brawl may be defined as “a noisy quarrel or fight” (when used as a noun) or “to quarrel or fight noisily” (when used as a verb). The word has been part of our vocabulary for a long time (since at the least Middle English period); its ultimate origin is uncertain. If you would like another word to use rather than brawl you are in luck, as our language is particularly rich in synonyms: ruckus, mêlée, affray (which is chiefly British in use), donnybrook, row, and fracas may all serve in the place of brawl.

‘Ghost gun’

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court caused increased interest in ghost gun.

The Supreme Court is reinstating a regulation aimed at reining in the proliferation of ghost guns, firearms without serial numbers that have been turning up at crime scenes across the nation in increasing numbers.
— Mark Sherman, AP News, 8 Aug. 2023

ghost gun is “a gun that lacks a serial number by which it can be identified and that is typically assembled by the user (as from purchased or homemade components).” This use of ghost echoes its role in a number of other compounds, such as ghost kitchen (“a commercial cooking facility used for the preparation of food consumed off the premises”) or ghostwriter (“one that writes for and in the name of another”), in that it refers to something or someone that is not typically seen, experienced, or traced.

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Barleyhood’

This week’s word worth knowing is barleyhood, last defined by us in our 1934 New International Dictionary as “bad temper caused by drinking.” The reason we stopped including it in subsequent dictionaries is because people stopped using the word, and not because people stopped being drunk and ornery.