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impeachment

[ im-peech-muhnt ]
/ ɪmˈpitʃ mənt /
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noun
the impeaching of a public official before an appropriate tribunal.
(in Congress or a state legislature) the presentation of formal charges against a public official by the lower house, trial to be before the upper house.
demonstration that a witness is less worthy of belief.
the act of impeaching.
the state of being impeached.
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Origin of impeachment

1350–1400; Middle English empechement<Anglo-French. See impeach, -ment

OTHER WORDS FROM impeachment

non·im·peach·ment, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does impeachment mean?

Impeachment is the act or process of impeaching a public official—formally accusing them of misconduct committed while in office.

The word impeachment can also refer to the state of being impeached. An offense that is cause for someone’s impeachment can be called an impeachable offense.

In the U.S., impeachment is closely associated with the act of officially bringing charges of misconduct against a sitting president (though other federal officials can be impeached).

Impeaching an official is not the same as convicting them or removing them from office—to impeach is simply to formally present charges against them.

Under U.S. law (specifically Article I of the Constitution), the House of Representatives has the power to formally accuse federal officials of misconduct through the process of impeachment. According to the Constitution, an official can be subjected to impeachment if they are alleged to have committed treason, bribery, or “other high crimes and misdemeanors” (this vague term covers a number of offenses but is the subject of debate). The formal charges are called articles of impeachment. 

If the House votes in favor of impeachment, the Senate then conducts an impeachment trial. In order for the person to be found guilty, two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of conviction. If found guilty, the official is removed from office (and may be forbidden from holding political office again, depending on the ruling of the Senate).

In a more general legal context, the word impeachment can refer to the questioning of a witness’s credibility.

The word impeachment can also be used in a more general way referring to the act of calling into question, as in Your impeachment of my motives is way off-base. It can also refer to the act of challenging or calling to account, as in The impeachment of such behavior is necessary in order to condemn it. 

Example: Representatives have said they will proceed with impeachment of the president if he refuses to resign.

Where does impeachment come from?

The first records of the word impeachment come from the 1300s. The suffix -ment is used to form nouns indicating an action or state. The verb impeach comes from the Middle English empechen or enpeshen, from the Late Latin verb impedicāre, meaning “to trap” or “to entangle.” The Latin term pedic(a) at the root of the word means “a fetter” (a shackle for the foot) and comes from the Latin pēs, which means “foot” and is the root of many foot-related words, such as pedicure and pedestrian.

In U.S. history, impeachment is relatively rare, with only a handful of officials ever having been impeached, including just three presidents.

  • President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for violating an act that set rules for appointing or firing federal officials. Johnson was just a single vote short of being found guilty.
  • President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1999 on charges that he committed perjury when testifying to a federal grand jury. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.
  • President Donald J. Trump was impeached in 2020 on charges involving corruption and abuse of power after he allegedly attempted to influence the president of Ukraine to perform political favors by withholding military aid that had been approved by Congress. Trump was acquitted by the Senate.
  • Trump was impeached a second time in 2021. The article of impeachment introduced by the House of Representatives accused the president of inciting insurrection by encouraging his supporters to storm the Capitol building, where Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump was defeated by Joseph Biden. Trump is the only president to face impeachment twice.

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What are some other forms related to impeachment?

What are some synonyms for impeachment?

What are some words that share a root or word element with impeachment

What are some words that often get used in discussing impeachment?

How is impeachment used in real life?

In the U.S., the word impeachment is closely associated with its use in the context of government and politics, especially in cases involving the president. When used generally, impeachment is fairly formal.

 

Try using impeachment!

True or False?

The impeachment of a government official always involves them being found guilty of a crime and being removed from office.

How to use impeachment in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for impeachment

impeachment
/ (ɪmˈpiːtʃmənt) /

noun
rare (in England) committal by the House of Commons, esp of a minister of the Crown, for trial by the House of Lords. The last instance occurred in 1805
(in the US) a proceeding brought against a federal government official
an accusation or charge
obsolete discredit; reproach
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for impeachment

impeachment

A formal accusation of wrongdoing against a public official. According to the United States Constitution, the House of Representatives can vote to impeach an official, but the Senate actually tries the case. Several presidencies have been blemished by impeachment or the threat of impeachment: President Andrew Johnson was impeached after the Civil War but was acquitted. President Richard Nixon resigned from office as the House of Representatives prepared to initiate impeachment proceedings. President William Jefferson Clinton was impeached in 1998 but was acquitted by the Senate the following year.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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