Lookups spiked 30,800% on January 22, 2020
Pettifogging (and its related noun pettifogger) had a brief moment of good repute on January 22nd, 2020, after Chief Justice John Roberts used it in a warning issued to both sides of the Trump impeachment trial.
"In the 1905 Swain trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word 'pettifogging' and the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used," Roberts said. "I don't think we need to aspire to that high of a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are."
— Madeline Holcombe, CNN (cnn.com), 22 Jan. 2020
The noun pettifogger has two main senses: "a lawyer whose methods are petty, underhanded, or disreputable; shyster" and "one given to quibbling over trifles." To pettifog is "to engage in legal chicanery" or "to quibble over insignificant details."
The petti- in pettifogger (originally pettie fogger in English) is an alteration of petty, a word long associated with the small-minded and insignificant. The fogger part is less clear; it may come from Fugger, the name of a successful family of 15th- and 16th-century German merchants and financiers. In the 16th century it began to be used to describe those who quibbled over minor details for a fee, in particular lower-status lawyers who took on small cases.
And now, seing his auntient and opposite enimie the Pope, hath foysted in among us Petifoggers, who (like sheete stealers, tinckers, or Connyskin buyers) creepe in corners to utter their trash,.
— Henri Estienne, The Stage of Popish Toyes, 1581
Trend Watch is a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal. While most trends can be traced back to the news or popular culture, our focus is on the lookup data rather than the events themselves.
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