- witch + hunt
- The verbal noun witch-hunting in the literal sense from 1640, the metaphorical sense from 1932, popularized during the Cold War anti-Communist hysteria in the USA.
- The noun witch-hunt itself in the literal sense dates to 1885, in the metaphorical sense to 1938. The sense of a campaign against a single individual dates to 1960 (OED).
- (historical) A search for witches, persons believed to be using sorcery or harmful magic, in order to persecute and typically kill them.
- An attempt to find and publicly punish a group of people perceived as a threat, usually on ideological or political grounds.
1938 April 20, George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia:
- Rank-and-file Communists everywhere are led away on a senseless witch-hunt after 'Trotskyists'.
- A public smear-campaign against an individual.
persecution of persons believed to be using magic
campaign to punish dissident persons