Jefe, White Elephant, And Other Trending Words On

From the funeral of a former president to an international soccer trade, here’s what made words trend on the week of From the funeral of a former president to an international soccer trade, here’s what made words trend on the week of November 30–December 7, 2018!


The loss of President George H.W. Bush was felt across the nation, and his long-time friend and former secretary of state James A. Baker III was thrust once again into the spotlight this week. Baker, who was with the 41st president right until the end, related one particular story that’s been repeated frequently this week:

“He looked up at me and said, ‘Bake, where are we going?’” Baker said in a telephone interview Saturday afternoon. “I said, ‘Jefe, we’re going to heaven.’ And he said, ‘That’s where I want to go.’”

The story sparked curiosity about the meaning of Baker’s nickname for the president, sending searches for jefe soaring. A loanword from Spanish, jefe means “leader; chief; boss.”


Americans said goodbye to President Bush with a publicly broadcasted funeral December 5. The tribute to the president included a eulogy delivered by his son, President George W. Bush, and a homily delivered by Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson Jr., the reverend at Bush’s church in Houston, Texas. The moment introduced many to the word homily, which trended on during Levenson’s delivery. The term means “a sermon, usually on a Biblical topic and usually of a nondoctrinal nature.”


The festival of lights began Sunday evening, a special time for Jewish people around the world to celebrate. But, just how do you spell that celebration? Thanks to transliteration—the process of  changing letters, words, etc. into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language—the Hebrew word describing the eight-day celebration has a number of spellings that are considered “correct.” Hanukkah, which saw a 343% jump in searches, just happens to be one of them!


American fans of the New York Red Bulls bid goodbye to midfielder Tyler Adams this week, but it wasn’t without getting a little something in return! Adams is off to Germany’s RB Leipzig, and searches for the meaning of Leipzig took a leap on The verdict? Leipzig is simply the name of a German city, located in the east central portion of the country.

White elephant

‘Tis the season to give your co-workers strange gifts! Is it any wonder we saw a leap in searches for the meaning of white elephant this week? Like the Secret Santa gift exchange, a white elephant exchange is typically done among a group of people, often co-workers. But the noun white elephant means “a possession unwanted by the owner but difficult to dispose of,” which may give you an idea of the goal of this sort of swap: To foist the strangest item possible on your “friends.”

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A tweet from President Donald Trump boosted interest in scot-free by 24,375% this week. The president spelled the term “Scott Free,” which quickly took over Twitter. The correct spelling is scot-free, which comes from the Old English scotfreo meaning “exempt from royal tax.”

Collective bargaining

A White House proposal to prevent postal employees from taking part in collective bargaining helped boost searches for the term 151%. Dating back to the 1800s, collective bargaining is “the process by which wages, hours, rules, and working conditions are negotiated and agreed upon by a union with an employer for all the employees collectively whom it represents.”


A recommendation from Special Counsel that former national security advisor Michael Flynn get a lenient sentence for making false statements to the FBI (a charge to which he’s already pleaded guilty), kicked off a scurry of searches for the meaning of the word. Lenient, which saw a spike this week, means “agreeably tolerant; permissive; indulgent.” In this case, it means Flynn will likely see no jail time.


Country singer Kane Brown opened up this week about his upbringing, telling reporters he didn’t know he was biracial until age 7 or 8. The admission coincided with a 446% climb in searches for the meaning of biracial. The adjective typically means “having a biological mother from one racial group and a biological father from another.”


Yiddish loanwords are well-represented in English—they even show up in our Word of the Day from time to time! This week it was meshugana that caught attention thanks to former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governator used the Yiddish word, which means “crazy person” to describe the president.

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