How The George Floyd Protests Have Powerfully Changed Search Trends on Dictionary.com

The protests against racism and police brutality, spurred by George Floyd—a Black man who was killed after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes—have expanded in size and scope across the entire world. The protests have, in turn, spurred the beginnings of everything from deep, uncomfortable reflections to institutional change and reform. And Dictionary.com has seen significant search trends that speak to the power and passion of this moment.

Many words users have been searching center on the protests themselves: protest, protestor, protester, Black Lives Matter, defund. Others focus on outbreaks of violence that have occurred around the peaceful protests: riot, loot. Several leading searches suggest anxieties and confusions about how white people and businesses are responding: complicit, virtue signaling, reverse racism. President Donald Trump’s words and actions—as we have consistently seen in data since 2015—also drive major search trends: antifa, thug, martial law. And, a great many of the terms spiked all together on June 1, marking a kind of crucible for the country.

Whatever the exact term, one theme is clear and certain in the data: lookups on our site are registering the national, and now international, conversation about the protests in a concentrated, sustained, high-volume way that we’ve never quite seen before, including that of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We hope we can do our small part to educate and inform. Here’s how we analyzed the trends. First, using multiple data points, we identified terms that were showing a meaningful and consistent increase in search volume on Dictionary.com. Second, we determined the search volume on the date on which this search volume peaked. Third, we calculated how much search volume had grown compared to the date on which searches began increasing—a measurement known as percent increase. This is important: all of these terms, we found, began trending up on May 26, the day after George Floyd was killed and the day the first protests began in Minneapolis.

Below, we present, in descending order, just the top-20 trending terms (there are many more) we are using, learning, debating amid the George Floyd protests for racial justice and equality. For each term, we list the percent increase of its search volume on the date interest peaked. We also provide a definition, as well as some context and notes for your additional edification.

antifa | 668,840% increase on June 3

Meaning: “a left-wing political movement, made up of various autonomous groups, that opposes fascism and other right-wing ideologies, often through militant protest tactics.”

Trending context: Dictionary.com saw a massive volume of search around Antifa starting after May 31, when President Trump tweeted his administration would be designating Antifa a terrorist organization, which it blamed for the rioting and looting that erupted around peaceful protests.

Additional notes: Interest in the term Antifa was so high and sustained that we shared our editorial content on the term, which also helps explain why searches peaked on June 3.

Additional notes: First recorded in the 1940s, Antifa comes from a shortened form of the German word for antifascist. Antifa is not a single, centralized organization, and the US government can currently only declare foreign groups as terrorist organizations.

defund | 75,075% increase on June 8

Meaning: “to withdraw financial support from, especially as an instrument of legislative control; to deplete the financial resources of.”

Trending context: The nation debated activist calls to defund the police, with policy objectives centering on reallocating police budgets to a variety of social services.

Additional notes: Calls to reform policing in the US were also framed in terms of dismantling or disbanding them. Searches for disband jumped 1392% on June 8.

martial law | 40,900% increase on June 1

Meaning: “the law temporarily imposed upon an area by state or national military forces when civil authority has broken down or during wartime military operations.”

Trending context: Questions and concerns around government power to declare martial law drove up searches for the term after President Trump threatened to use the military to control violent outbreaks.

reverse racism | 33,825% increase on June 1

Meaning: “intolerance or prejudice directed at members of historically dominant racial groups.”

Additional notes: The term reverse racism is widely criticized because racism is systemic and institutional. It involves historical and persistent structures of power, not mere acts of intolerance or prejudice.

Other related words like racism increased 1064% on June 4; racist, on June 3; and systemic surged 1,801% on June 8.

Black Lives Matter | 31,990% increase on June 2

Meaning: “a political and social movement originating among African Americans, emphasizing basic human rights and racial equality for black people and campaigning against various forms of racism.” Abbreviations: BLM, B.L.M.

Trending context: With the movement expanding in size and spreading around the world, more white people, public figures, and corporate entities voiced—to very many, long overdue—support for Black Lives Matter.

Additional notes: Black Lives Matter originated as a social media hashtag in 2013, sparked by an acquittal in the shooting death of Black teenager Trayvon Martin.

protestor | 22,689% increase on June 1

Meaning: “a person who engages in or performs a protest”

protester | 16,553% increase on June 2

Meaning: variant of protestor.

Additional notes: While the -er spelling of the agent noun for protest remains more common, the -or spelling is gaining ground.

antifascist | 15,563% increase on June 1

Meaning: “a person who opposes, or relating to the opposition of, fascism and other right-wing ideologies.” Also anti-fascist.

Additional notes: On June 1, searches for fascism climbed 1,982% and fascist, 1,090%.

asphyxiation | 9,283% increase on June 1

Meaning: “causing to die or lose consciousness by asphyxia; suffocation”

Trending context: An independent autopsy concluded on June 1 that George Floyd’s death was a homicide as the result of asphyxiation.

abetting | 7,353% increase on June 3

Meaning: “encouraging, supporting, or countenancing by aid or approval, usually in wrongdoing.”

Trending context: Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while he said, “I can’t breathe,” was charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. On June 3, it was announced that the three other officers on the scene were being charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin’s charge of second-degree murder after failing to intervene in the homicide.

Virgil | 7,235% increase on June 3

Meaning: Virgil is a male given name, also spelled Vergil, after the Latin name of the Roman poet who wrote The Aeneid.

Trending context: Influential Black luxury designer Virgil Abloh faced backlash over his response to the George Floyd protests, which many felt was unconstructive and insufficient. Abloh later issued an apology.

thug | 6,726% increase on May 29

Meaning: “a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer.”

Trending context: In response to protests in Minneapolis that saw some instances of rioting and looting, President Trump threatened to use the military to control “thugs” in an inflammatory tweet Twitter labelled with a warning for glorifying violence.

Additional notes: As one of our lexicographers explains, “The word ‘thug’ is offensive when used as a racial code word to imply Black people are violent or criminal.”

looting | 4,503% increase on May 31

Meaning: “carrying off or taking anything taken by dishonesty, force, stealth, etc.”

asphyxia | 4,271% increase on June 1

Meaning: “the extreme condition caused by lack of oxygen and excess of carbon dioxide in the blood, produced by interference with respiration or insufficient oxygen in the air; suffocation.”

lynching | 3,897% increase on June 5

Meaning: “putting to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.”

Trending context: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was criticized for holding up legislation that would make lynching a federal crime.

Note: Lynching specifically refers to the hanging death of Black men by white people in the United States, especially in the Jim Crow South.

protest | 3,284% increase on June 1

Meaning:

Noun, sense 1: “an expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid.

Verb, sense 7: “to make a protest or remonstrance against; object to.”

riot | 3,125% increase on June 1

Meaning:

Noun, sense 1: “a noisy, violent public disorder caused by a group or crowd of persons, as by a crowd protesting against another group, a government policy, etc., in the streets.”

virtue signaling | 2,931% on June 2

Meaning: “the sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not.”

Trending context: June 2 was Blackout Tuesday, a day in which many individuals and groups variously abstained from business as usual in support of protests against racism and police brutality, taking time for reflection and action instead. On Blackout Tuesday, many people on social media changed their pictures to or posted images of black boxes, which many criticized as mere virtue signaling.

complicit | 2,530% increase on June 1

Meaning: “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.”

Additional notes: The issue of people being complicit in racism is not a new one. We selected complicit as our Word of the Year for 2017.

habeas corpus | 2,369% increase on June 4

Meaning: “a writ requiring a person to be brought before a judge or court, especially for investigation of a restraint of the person’s liberty, used as a protection against illegal imprisonment.”

Trending context: New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez characterized a judge ruling to allow the New York Police Department to detain people arrested for more than 24 hours as suspension of habeas corpus.

Additional notes: Habeas corpus is Latin, literally meaning “have the body.”

Other notable search trends

We also wanted to call attention to the following terms that saw a notable increase in user search since the George Floyd protests began. They further reflect topics of law, conflict, emotions, race, and activism central to the moment.

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