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Three Terms That Misdefined 2020

In a year dominated by US President Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic, “witch hunt,” “black swan,” and “exponential” entered wide use. But those who adopted these terms often did not understand what they meant.

CAMBRIDGE – US President Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the news headlines in 2020. Three terms in particular came to symbolize the year: “witch hunt,” “black swan,” and “exponential.”

Trump has tweeted the phrase “witch hunt” approximately once every three days on average during his presidency, and not only in connection with his impeachment trial. He continued to use it later in the year to describe accusations that he mismanaged America’s COVID-19 response, inquiries into his tax returns, an investigation into alleged criminal conduct at the Trump Organization, and other controversies.

Most people made their minds up long ago about whether Trump was guilty of his alleged transgressions. But neither his supporters nor his critics have given full thought to the linguistic implications of the term “witch hunt.” Perhaps it doesn’t mean what they think it does.

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