The Best Words

I don’t like to get too overtly political in this blog. While I think everyone should be conscious of what’s going on around them, ultimately this blog is language-focussed, and I prefer to keep it that way. And while it’s hard not to avoid politics at the moment, I want to take a brief look at Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America, but specifically the words he uses.

I’ve thought about this for quite some time, even before he won the election, but it always seemed too depressing to get into. I think it feels easier now as we’ve been resigned to the reality of his presidency since the inauguration. Coming across this article today also prompted me. The basic gist of it, based on the account of translator Bérengère Viennot, is that Trump is proving difficult for French-language translators, due to the fact that “Trump’s vocabulary is limited, his syntax is broken; he repeats the same phrases over and over, forcing the translator to follow suit.” I’m not surprised to hear this, and I’m sure he’s proving difficult for translators of all languages. Hell, it’s hard for some English speakers to interpret him sometimes.

He certainly doesn’t seem to rehearse his speeches too much. He seems to know the gist of what he wants to say, but he clearly struggles for his exact words, and the result can be an unstructured mess. Take this 90-second run-on sentence from a speech last year:

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

 While we can all get a little flustered and garbled in public speaking, pauses are free of charge. Here’s another more recent utterance, about the Russian hacking controversy:
I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of [the] computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.
Indeed. But very often, Trump’s language is characterised by its simplicity. I know I usually encourage simplicity in using English, but his language is extremely simple. We all remember his response to Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that he was a puppet of Russia:
No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet!
You can easily see how hard that is to translate. Is he saying that there is, sadly, no puppet in the room? Or that he’s not the puppet? Really, how hard could it have been to utter a complete sentence? Even I’m no puppet would have been a vast improvement.
He really does seem to have a very limited vocabulary, using the same words over and over again, despite the following claim:
I’m telling you, I used to use the word incompetent. Now I just call them stupid. I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words…but there is no better word than stupid. Right?
I have the best words. Hhm, there couldn’t be any other possible way to express that, could there? And I think those few words he does use are very telling. One of his most-frequently used words is loser, as in:
(on John McCain, captured and tortured during the Vietnam War) I supported him, he lost, he let us down. But you know, he lost, so I’ve never liked him as much after that, because I don’t like losers…He’s not a war hero…He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.
It’s quite telling, and worrying, that he divides people into winners and losers, and sees business and the political realm as spheres in which you lose or win, beat your enemies. To me, it seems highly suggestive of an insecure narcissist. And who says loser, except for high-school bullies in 1980s teen movies? Which sadly, probably says a lot about how the next four years will pan out. Sad!

20 thoughts on “The Best Words

  1. never thought of this in terms in interpreting his speeches into other languages… but since he’s not saying anything at all, maybe they can just print a disclaimer, like “once again, he said nothing”.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember I had a professor who wrote a book called “The Bush Dyslexicon” after George W. Bush got elected. It explored Bush’s seemingly poor grasp of the English language and how that served the aims of the Republicans at the time. It seems crazy that now GWB sounds like such a great speaker in comparison to Trump. I suppose that the anti-intellectualism that helped Bush back then has just gotten more pronounced through the Obama years.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. […] But I’m not really interested in criticising people for not knowing the word, though perhaps I might just suggest that reading is always a great thing, for many reasons. I think what surprises me most about this whole situation is that it’s the 21st century and this is what global politics is about. A spiteful orange buffoon, inexplicably elected to the position of US President, calling a dangerous dictator with nuclear capabilities Rocket Man in a speech at the UN, with said dictator firing back with a mentally-deranged dotard crack (in fairness to him, he seems much more eloquent than Trump). […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s