The Words of the Week - July 1

Dictionary lookups from the Supreme Court, January 6th, and the 4th of July weekend
friends celebrating 4th of july


Mogul was a rare five-letter word that did not spike in lookups due to an appearance in Wordle: it came to prominence from coverage of the investigation into the January 6th attack.

Trump told the rally at the Ellipse that day he would go to the Capitol and Secret Service and National Security Council staff communicated about "clearing a route," according to messages shown by the committee. In the communications, security personnel used the code name "Mogul" for Trump.
— Ximena Bustillo, NPR, 28 Jun. 2022

The sense of mogul that is likely most relevant here is “a dominant person in a particular business or field,” a meaning that has been in use in English since the middle of the 17th century. The word has an earlier meaning, which is “an Indian Muslim of or descended from one of several conquering groups of Mongol, Turkish, and Persian origin.” The mogul with the meaning “a bump in a ski run” is etymologically unrelated.

’Witness tampering’

Witness tampering also trended from the Congressional investigation into January 6th, after members of the Congressional committee avowed that this behavior had occurred.

“The Press is going to focus on some sensational revelations from today:  guns, grabbing a secret service agent, etc. But the real bomb that got dropped was the implied charge of witness tampering,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump's former acting chief of staff, tweeted.
— Scott Wong, NBC, 28 Jun. 2022

We define witness tampering as “the act of physically harming or using threats, intimidation, harassment, or corrupt persuasion against a witness with the goal of influencing the witness's testimony or preventing the witness from providing evidence in an official proceeding.” The practice is not particularly new, as there is evidence of use of this term from at least as far back as the 1870s.

Investigation in the alleged witness tampering case—new rules adopted
— (headline) New York Daily Herald, 8 Sept. 1877


The testimony of a former aide to Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s chief of staff, caused many people to look up the word hearsay.

House Judiciary GOP Claimed Mark Meadows Aide’s Blockbuster Testimony Was ‘Literally All Hearsay Evidence.’ The Truth Is More Complicated.
— (headline), 29 Jun. 2022

Hearsay has both a strict legal definition and a more general one. Our legal definition is “a statement made out of court and not under oath which is offered as proof that what is stated is true.” When employed in a more general manner (as in ‘I’ve head that Jack steals food from the refrigerator in the lunch room, but that’s just hearsay’), the word’s meaning is essentially synonymous with rumor.


Indigenous also spiked in lookups, after a Supreme Court ruling.

SCOTUS rules states can prosecute non-Native Americans on Indigenous lands
— (headline) Axios, 29 Jun. 2022

This sense of the word is defined as “of or relating to the earliest known inhabitants of a place and especially of a place that was colonized by a now-dominant group.” When used thusly, referring to people, Indigenous is usually capitalized. The word has a number of other meanings (such as “produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment”), which are not typically capitalized. The word came to English from the Latin noun indigena (meaning “native”).


Also trending as a result of the Supreme Court was the word historic, as Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman to be sworn in as a justice of that body.

The series unfolds during a profoundly consequential year, from the historic confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the fallout of an unprecedented leak from inside the Court’s chambers, and a Supreme Court, remade by former President Donald Trump, in the wake of overturning Roe v. Wade.
— Peter White, Deadline, 28 Jun. 2022

This is a good occasion to remind readers that while historic and historical have been used interchangeably by many writers (even in recent years), many people have a strong preference in distinguishing between the two words. If you would like to avoid being corrected use historical for matters relating to history (‘the historical society is having a gala event’), and historic to refer to things having great and lasting importance (‘Jackson’s confirmation is a historic occasion’).

Words You Should Know: ‘Crapulous’

Our word you should know this week is crapulous, defined as “marked by intemperance especially in eating or drinking” and “sick from excessive indulgence in liquor.” It is the weekend before the Fourth of July, a time of year when many people go to picnics and various other forms of outdoor festivity, and sometimes these people … overindulge in food and drink. This word therefore may be applicable to your weekend (although we certainly hope that it will not be needed).

Major Kerr carried an enormous ache in his thick skull. His was the crapulous headache. He knew it well. Every manner of cure, except prevention, he had experimented upon.
— Theodore Winthrop, Edwin Brothertoft, 1862