The Words of the Week - May 12

Dictionary lookups from politics, television, and the justice system
town hall sign on front of building

‘Town hall’

Town hall was high in lookups this week, after a news station held an event of this kind with former President Donald Trump.

CNN town hall shows the network still doesn’t know how to handle Donald Trump
— (headline), CNBC, 11 May 2023

The sense of town hall as used here is one we define as “an event at which a public official or political candidate addresses an audience by answering questions posed by individual members.” The original sense of the word is simply “a public building used for town-government offices and meetings”; it has been part of English since the 15th century. The newer, meeting-oriented, sense appeared first in North American use, around the end of the 19th century.

Senator Taylor said he was not acquainted with the gentlemen who thronged the lobby of the senate chamber, but as far as he was concerned he was opposed to making a town hall meeting out of a session of the senate, and was in favor of keeping all but senators out of the room during business hours.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), 16 Jan. 1897

‘Wire fraud’

Wire fraud was in the news a good deal, after a member of Congress was indicted on this charge.

[George] Santos, 34, was released on $500,000 bond following his arraignment, about five hours after turning himself in to face charges of wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements to Congress.
PBS News Hour, 10 May 2023

Wire fraud is “fraud committed using a means of electronic communication (such as a telephone or computer).” The appearance of fraud should surprise few people, as the legal meaning of this word is “any act, expression, omission, or concealment calculated to deceive another to his or her disadvantage.” For those who were born in the modern age, however, the use of wire may be puzzling. At the time that the term wire fraud came into use (over 100 years ago), much of the areas of telecommunications (telephones, telegraphs, and the like) in which one might cheat someone else were connected directly to each other with wires.

They were charged with having mulcted Newport Logan, a New Zealand sheep raiser, of $7,000 by means of a “wire” fraud.
— New York Tribune, 20 Jun. 1919

‘Witch hunt’

Witch hunt also had a very busy week, as George Santos claimed that he was a victim of one of these, as did a number of other people with legal issues.

George Santos described criminal charges against him as a “witch hunt” in a defiant press conference following his arrest on Wednesday.
— Richard Hall, The Independent (London), 10 May 2023

‘A Reasonable Conclusion’: Fox News Analyst Shoots Down Trump Calling Sexual Assault Verdict Part of a ‘Witch Hunt’
— (headline) Mediaite, 9 May 2023

Jonathan Majors' Lawyer Calls Assault Case a 'Witch Hunt' as Actor Appears in Court Via Zoom
— (headline) People, 9 May 2023

A witch hunt is either “the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (such as political opponents) with unpopular views” or “a searching out for persecution of persons accused of witchcraft.” The word is perhaps most commonly associated (at least in its political sense) with the conduct of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, in which he claimed to be investigating communist sympathizers. However, witch hunt had been used figuratively well before that.

The revelations at Washington are bad, but they may do more good for the development of oil and the conservation of reserves than anything that has happened in ten years. The President has said in this he has no party. Public sentiment ought not to indorse a political witch hunt.
Chicago Daily Tribune, 14 Feb. 1924


Manslaughter has been high in lookups as well this week, following reports that a man who killed someone on a New York City subway would be charged with this.

Man who choked NYC subway rider to death will face manslaughter charge, prosecutors say
— (headline) AP News, 11 May 2023

The legal definition of manslaughter is “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” It is a less serious charge than murder, which is defined as “the crime of unlawfully and unjustifiably killing another under circumstances defined by statute (as with premeditation).”

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Anecdotage’

Our word worth knowing this week is anecdotage, defined as “garrulous old age.” The word is a blend of anecdote (“a short story about an interesting or funny event or occurrence”) and dotage (“the time when a person is old and often less able to remember or do things”).

The retiree generation isn’t dead yet. They have their fears, especially of falling. They have financial worries. They go to the doctor quite often. But they’re still capable of using their talents, energies and experience for the benefit of the community, in order to keep busy and to contribute to society–unlike the past, when grandparents were expected to sit home on a cushioned armchair and creak through their anecdotage.
— Raymond Apple, The Jerusalem Post, 8 May 2023