Smarmy. Ineptitude. Fly. The words Americans looked up during the vice presidential debate

Watch the moment a fly landed on Vice President Mike Pence's head while he was debating Sen. Kamala Harris during the only vice presidential debate of the 2020 election.

Posted: Oct 8, 2020 2:31 PM
Updated: Oct 8, 2020 2:31 PM

When the President debated his Democratic opponent last month, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary gave us a glimpse of the kinds of words Americans were talking about.

Among the trending terms on the dictionary's website were xenophobia, antifa, racism and... "shush."

This week, as Vice President Mike Pence took the stage to debate Sen. Kamala Harris, a new set of terms emerged.

Those include pro-life, fascism, white supremacist and ineptitude, a term Harris used to describe the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic.

And for the first time in, ever, the dictionary said the word "fly," was also trending. (Here's what that means, in case anyone's wondering.) Look ups for the word spiked 3,800% on Wednesday, the dictionary said.

Here are some other terms that had Americans talking:

'Fracking'

This word's lookups spiked a staggering 55,000% during the vice presidential debate, the dictionary said.

It began trending after Pence claimed former Vice President Joe Biden planned to ban fracking.

First, let's get to the word: it's defined as "the injection of fluid into shale beds at high pressure in order to free up petroleum resources (such as oil or natural gas)," according to the dictionary. It comes from the words hydraulic and fracturing.

"Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which a liquid is injected under high pressure into a well in order to create tiny fissures in the rock deep beneath the earth which then allow gas and oil to flow into the well," the dictionary says. The practice, forcefully opposed by environmental activists, has led to a drilling boom in the US.

Now, let's get to the claim: Pence's point is misleading. Biden isn't running on a proposal to completely ban fracking but he has in the past suggested he was proposing to get rid of all fracking.

Read CNN's fact check on the claim

'Existential'

According to the dictionary, searches for the word spiked 8,000% after Harris warned of the existential threat that climate change poses.

The term means "of, relating to, or affirming existence," according to the website. It can also be used to mean "grounded in existence or the experience of existence," the dictionary said.

'Smarmy'

Why was this trending? It could have something to do with a Twitter mention.

Former Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol wrote a Tweet referring to "Pence's cloying smarminess." And the term just took off, with lookups spiking 5,000% Wednesday, according to the dictionary.

The dictionary offers two definitions: "revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness," and "of low sleazy taste or quality."

The full list


Here is the full list of the words that ranked post-debate, according to the dictionary:

fracking

existential

white supremacist

smarmy

racism

fascism

ineptitude

moderator

segue

pro-life

dogma

fly

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