Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Should the term "witch hunt" only be used when dealing with a problem that does not exist, as in witchcraft, or does the term also apply when a problem does exist, but those dealing with it are ignoring due process?

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The definition for witch-hunt, as given by the OED, is:

a. A single-minded and uncompromising campaign against a group of people with unacceptable views or behaviour, spec. communists; esp. one regarded as unfair or malicious persecution.

b. A campaign against an individual.

It has taken on this less literal meaning since the 1930s. The term is used to mean that a group of people is being persecuted for their beliefs unfairly. This can be used when there is a potential problem or not, but the group of "witches" is not being treated fairly. I think it is safe to say that the term applies to both of your cases: when there is no problem (like the Salem Witch Trials) and when due process is ignored (like communists in the US).

share|improve this answer
4  
To be more explicit, what makes it a "witch hunt" has nothing to do with whether or not its a real problem, but has everything to do with whether or not due process is ignored -- if due process is ignored in a panic to accuse someone, anyone, it's a witch hunt. –  Jeremy Sep 5 '11 at 4:15
    
@Jeremy: Exactly what I was trying to say. Only you put it much better. –  simchona Sep 5 '11 at 4:56
add comment

A "witch hunt" implies that someone is blamed for something that is not their fault. The problem may be real. But the source of the problem is not clear so a "scape goat" is found to take the blame.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.