Lookups of Lepo Spiked During Debate Discussion of Aleppo
During last night's presidential debate, the candidates were asked what they would do about the humanitarian crisis in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Shortly after that, Kory Stamper, a lexicographer with Merriam-Webster, tweeted out a list of the words that were showing a spike in lookups at the Merriam-Webster dictionary site. At the top of the list was lepo, followed by a list of other debate words in which Aleppo came seventh.
Was it really the case that people were hearing Aleppo as a lepo? Searches on Google indicated that this was indeed the case. Google Trends showed a spike in Google searches for lepo at the same time
The related queries show that it was indeed the case that people were hearing Aleppo as a lepo (or in some cases, el lepo).
If you've never heard of Aleppo, this is not such a hard mistake to make. The rhythm and stress pattern of Aleppo makes that first syllable sound exactly like the indefinite article a. And there actually happens to be a meaning for lepo in English. According to Merriam-Webster, it is a combining form, from Greek, which means husk, rind, or scale as in lepocyte or lepothrix. These old-fashioned words refer, respectively, to a type of biological cell with a cell wall and a scaly follicle disease affecting the armpit or pubic hair.
It is probably the case that most people were steered by their lookups to the correct spelling of the Syrian city and, hopefully, to more information about the situation there. What is merica? jokes aside, that is just how it should work when people aren't quite sure what they're looking for.