-- Was the overthrow of Egypt's Islamist government on Wednesday a coup?

Much hangs on the exact words used to describe what happened.

If the U.S. government determines the Egyptian military carried out a coup, it could affect the $1.5 billion in economic and military assistance Washington gives Egypt each year.

"U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree," U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a key decision-maker on U.S. foreign aid, said Wednesday. He said his foreign assistance committee "will review future aid to the Egyptian government as we wait for a clearer picture."

In Egypt, too, the legitimacy of the military's action hangs on how it is publicly viewed. In an English-language tweet, deposed President Mohammed Morsi said the military had staged a "full coup." The military rejected the term, saying in a statement it never engages in coups but "always stands by the will and aspirations of the glorious Egyptian people for change and reform."

The usual Arabic term for a military coup is "inqilab askari." Inqilab literally means overturning; askari means military.

"Coup" comes from the French "coup d'etat," or "stroke of state." Webster's New World College Dictionary defines it as the "sudden, forcible overthrow of a ruler, government, etc., sometimes with violence, by a small group of people already having some political or military authority." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language also speaks of a "small group."

Egypt's military overthrew an elected government after giving Morsi and his political opponents first seven days, then 48 hours to work out their own differences. Egypt's top military officers could also be defined as a "small group," but they acted after millions of citizens across the country demonstrated for Morsi's removal. The military's statement said its move was "an interaction with the pulse of the Egyptian street."

The military installed a civilian government, not putting generals directly in power.

So far, The Associated Press is not characterizing the overthrow as a "coup," using purely descriptive terms like "the overthrow of Morsi by the military."

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Associated Press reporters Donna Cassata in Washington and Lee Keath in Cairo contributed to this story.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Egyptian protesters chant pro-Morsi slogans as they gather in front of the parliament building in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • An injured protester reacts during clashes between residents and Muslim Brotherhood members and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi supporters outside Cairo University, on July 3, 2013 in Cairo. (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A member of Egyptian police special forces stands guard beside an armored vehicle, protecting a bridge between Tahrir Square and Cairo University, where Muslim Brotherhood supporters have gathered, in Giza, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)

  • A protester runs past a fire raging during clashes in Giza, Egypt, early Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Nameer Galal)

  • Egyptian protesters calling for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi react as they watch his speech on a screen in a street leading to presidential palace early in Cairo on July 3, 2013. (MAHMUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A car burns during clashes between residents and Muslim Brotherhood members and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi supporters outside Cairo University, on July 3, 2013 in Cairo. (MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian opposition protester holds a chair and knife during a clash between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi in downtown Damietta, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Hamada Elrasam)

  • Thousands of Egyptian protesters begin to gather in Tahrir Square as the deadline given by the military to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi approaches on July 3, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • An opposition demonstrator sits below graffiti of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on the walls of Egypt's Presidential Palace in the suburb of Heliopolis on July 3 2013, in Cairo, Egypt. (Ed Giles/Getty Images).

  • Opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi light flares in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • This image made from video broadcast on Egyptian State Television shows President Mohammed Morsi addressing the nation in a televised speech on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Egyptian State Television)

  • Opponents of Egyptian Islamist President Mohammed Morsi protesters shout slogans in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • An Egyptian protester cries during a demonstration supporting Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi near Cairo University in Giza, Egypt, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

  • Opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • Egyptian protesters calling for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi react as they watch his speech on a screen in a street leading to presidential palace early in Cairo on July 3, 2013. (MAHMUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Egyptian military army soldiers stand guard at the entrance of the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi bang drums during a protest outside the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Fireworks light the sky as opponents of Egypt's Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi celebrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Supporters of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans during a rally, in Nasser City, Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

  • A military helicopter files over the presidential palace as opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi celebrate, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Egyptian police evacuate an injured Salafi man during clashes in front of the Culture Ministry in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Egyptian riot police try to separate Salafis and protesters during clashes in front of the Culture Ministry in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, June 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Supporters of Egypt's military shout anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans during a protest in front of the Unknown Soldier memorial in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • Egyptian masked protesters, who call themselves the black eagles and describes themselves as peaceful but are prepared to defend any attacks against protesters, gather near the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

  • Egyptian protesters take cover as they clash with riot police, not seen, near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • An Egyptian protester runs for cover from tear gas fired by riot police, not seen, during clashes near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Egyptian protesters clash with riot police, not seen, near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)