Dictionary Searches for "Betrayal" Spike After Spicer's Comments on Sally Yates Firing

Sean Spicer Jan 24 - Getty - H 2017
Drew Angerer/Getty

Sean Spicer Jan 24 - Getty - H 2017

After the White House press secretary refused to define the word, Merriam-Webster responded with a lengthy definition.

Many looked to the dictionary for help on Tuesday to define "betrayal," a word that played a large part in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's news conference about the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates

Merriam-Webster reports that searches for the word "betrayal" spiked after the press conference, in which Spicer used the word to describe President Donald Trump's firing of Yates after she refused to defend the president's executive order about immigration that he signed Friday. 

During the conference, a reporter asked Spicer if the firing was "a betrayal," with another reporter asking him to "define the word." He replied, “I’m not going to define the word.”

Merriam-Webster responded to the discussion on Tuesday by going ahead and defining the word.

"Betrayal," according to the dictionary, "is the noun that came from the verb betray, which has several meanings, including 'to deliver to an enemy by treachery,' 'to fail or desert especially in time of need,' 'to reveal unintentionally,' and 'to disclose in violation of confidence.' Betrayal means 'the act of betraying or fact of being betrayed.'"

The word, in fact, was mentioned in the president's firing of Yates, Merriam-Webster notes: "The acting Attorney, General Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States." 

The dictionary's Twitter account has sparked several online conversations throughout the contentious presidential election, including clarifying the words "rig," "hombre" and "bigly" after Trump's comments during presidential debates. The dictionary declared "surreal" as the 2016 word of the year with the message: "It just seems like one of those years."

Lauren Naturale, who handles the Merriam-Webster Twitter feed, recently spoke to Vox about the spirit behind the account and how the day's news inspires what they post. 

"It reflects the personalities of the people who work here: wildly enthusiastic about language, jokey, friendly, but nobody’s fool," said Naturale. "There’s also a kind of egalitarianism-without-anti-intellectualism which has been part of Merriam-Webster’s identity since before Twitter was invented."

She added, "We also offer commentary on words in a way that’s relevant to what’s actually going on in people’s lives." Explaining of the process, "So a lot of what we post is determined by what words are in the news and what’s being looked up on a specific day."