CRF Blog

Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Year 2019

by Bill Hayes

Merriam-Webster has published its list of the Top 10 Words of 2019.         

1/10: Quid pro quo

The investigation into President Trump’s phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky became something of a vocabulary lesson for many Americans, and the term quid pro quo was heard countless times from newscasters, pundits, politicians, and the president himself. Major spikes of lookups occurred on September 25th, October 17th and 18th, and November 20th, for a year-over-year increase of 644%.

We define quid pro quo as “something given or received for something else,” and “a deal arranging a quid pro quo.” The literal translation from New Latin is “something for something.”

The current use dates to the late 16th century. In its initial use, a now-obsolete sense from the beginning of that century, quid pro quo referred to something obtained from an apothecary when one medicine was substituted for another. Such substitutions could be either accidental or fraudulent. Soon after its apothecary sense the word took on a more general meaning of substitution. Today, the term is most often encountered in legal contexts. [more]