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‘Malarkey’ searches skyrocket after Joe Biden’s DNC speech

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Vice President Joe Biden didn’t hold back Wednesday when upbraiding Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention.

“He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class? Give me a break. That’s a bunch of malarkey!” Biden said to thunderous applause in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.

Afterward, lookups for the old-fashioned, somewhat corny word “malarkey” spiked more than 17,400 percent on Merriam-Webster.com. According to the entry, “malarkey” means “insincere or foolish talk; bunkum.”

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of Merriam-Webster, pointed out that there are many reasons to look up a word in the dictionary other than learning its meaning, whether it’s double-checking the spelling, reading about its etymology or something else.

“A lot of people would have understood from the context that the word means ‘nonsense,’ but they are checking it out. They’re looking it up,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News.

Biden has said “malarkey” many times throughout his political career dating back to at least 1983. It can be used freely in politics because it’s not an obscenity and it’s clearly informal, Sokolowski pointed out.

“I think it’s deliberately old-fashioned. I think it’s part of his persona. He’s trying to be your Irish uncle. He’s someone who has an avuncular and warm personality,” he said.

The term’s exact origin is unknown but its earlier citations date from the 1920s, and it appears to have been a preferred slang term among Irish-Americans — not the Irish.

Biden used the word “malarkey” a few times during the 2012 vice presidential debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. Biden and Ryan share an Irish heritage.

“In that debate, you had the older Joe Biden speaking to the younger man, Paul Ryan, kind of as if they were at a kitchen table during a family argument,” Sokolowski recalled. “There he was using ‘malarkey,’ trying to kind of teach the young kid a thing or two. And that’s the way it came off. It was very effective then and it was clearly effective last night, too.”

Other words have been trending as a result of the DNC as well.

Searches for “hypocrisy” (“the behavior of people who do things that they tell other people not to do”) spiked after former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “The richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy.”

The same goes for “uxorious” (“excessively fond of or submissive to a wife”) when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd described former President Bill Clinton as “positively uxorious” while delivering a speech about his wife, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Searches for “demagogue” went up after President Obama said that anyone who threatened the United States’ values would fail — whether they be “fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues.” Somewhat amusingly, searches for “demigod” also shot up.

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In his endorsement of Clinton, her former primary rival Bernie Sanders said she would appoint Supreme Court justices who would “end the movement toward oligarchy in this country.” This increased lookups of “oligarchy” (“a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes”).

Sokolowski reiterated that just because people are looking up a word in the dictionary does not mean that they do not know its meaning.

“We’re good at reading data. We’re not good at reading minds,” he said. “You could be looking it up to learn about the plural or to learn the fine points of the definition.”

He pointed out that many words start trending in parallel. For instance, “socialism” and “capitalism” spiked at the same time, suggesting that people were comparing and contrasting the economic philosophies.
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