Last week, US president Barack Obama said:

Third, we’re working with friends and allies to stop ISIL’s operations -- to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters. Since the attacks in Paris, we’ve surged intelligence-sharing with our European allies. We’re working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria. And we are cooperating with Muslim-majority countries -- and with our Muslim communities here at home -- to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online.

Surge here is a transitive verb (i.e. to surge something).

When I check Merriam-Webster it has six noun senses (e.g. "a surge of interest"), five intransitive verb senses (e.g. "a ship surging in heavy seas").

It does have a transitive verb sense, but with very different meaning:

to let go or slacken gradually (as a rope)

This is clearly not what Obama meant; he used it in the opposite, to mean an increase like the more familiar noun and intransitive verb senses.

Is Obama's use of this verb a new sense, or am I misunderstanding the M-W definition?

Is it common or mainstream? Or is he introducing some slang or jargon to a wider audience?

  • 1
    Yes, it seems to me that he increased the valency of the verb and IOW changed intransitive to transitive. Something like "Paul felled the tree." as explained by Wikipedia (Under irregular stem change)
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 20:45
  • Here's a recent "surging troops" washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/01/19/…
    – Hugo
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 21:14

1 Answer 1


You're making this too hard. M-W's second "simple" definition is

suddenly increase to an unusually high level

And that's what Obama meant. The U.S. has suddenly increased information sharing to an unusually high level.

You're right, that this is not typically used transitively. Which makes this a great example of language evolution. Of course, some evolutionary changes are successful and others die off quickly. Time will tell which kind this is.

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