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The BBC Radio 4 series “Keywords for our time” examines key phrases currently in use in public debate and political culture. In a recent programme, Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, took a look at the… Read More
Leaving all politics aside, this week’s blog attempts a little survey of some of the more interesting linguistic quirks of the current President of the United States of America.
Trump’s now infamous “Covfefe”, which caused a near internet meltdown for 24 hours, may have been little more than a finger fumble or pocket dialling incident. But it certainly had Merriam Webster on its toes, issuing its own now famous response:
Some of the other Trump’s vocabulary choices have a more established etymology. For instance “bragadocious” sent viewers of the first presidential debate scurrying to their dictionaries. Merriam Webster reveals this to be a dialectical word from 19th-century America meaning “arrogant”.
Another of Trump’s apparent linguistic resurrections from the first debate turns out to be not quite what it seemed. When addressing Hillary Clinton many listeners perceived him as saying “I’m going to cut taxes bigly, and you’re going to raise taxes bigly.”
This prompted another flurry of dictionary searches, and again “bigly” turns out to be a real word meaning “with great force”. But closer analysis suggests Trump may in fact have said “big league”, the final “g” being lost with the speed of delivery.
The tweets emanating from Trump’s mobile device are now legendary and are characterised by the use of a condensed syntax and simple choice of vocabulary which is ripe for parody. He particularly likes the adjectives “horrible”, “weak” and “great” and the noun “cheat”. This style led Hugh Laurie to wonder “will there be a separate news conference for the verbs?”.
A recent Guardian article looks at the challenges facing those whose job it is to translate or interpret Trump’s utterances for a foreign audience. Chikako Tsuruta is a professor of interpreting and translation studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and she describes the crux of the problem: “I tell my students that with simultaneous interpretation, the trick is to anticipate the speaker’s intentions and tell a story, to be slightly ahead of the game. But when the logic is not clear or a sentence is just left hanging in the air, then we have a problem … it’s so incoherent. You’re interpreting, and then suddenly the sentence stops making sense”.
Tsuruta is also vocal on the issue of translating some of Trump’s more “colourful” language, particularly about women, and she describes how translators are having to reach for dictionaries of cultural expressions rather than their standard political resources. Rajesh Pandey, who translates Trump for a Hindi-speaking audience says “we don’t use ornamental language. We try to keep it rough and tough.” On the other hand, Anshuman Tiwari, editor of India Today, concedes that translators may sometimes tidy up Trump’s utterances: “In English, Trump may not sound very intelligent, but when you translate that with context in Hindi, it makes him sound much better than he is.”
We try to keep it rough and tough.” On the other hand, Anshuman Tiwari, editor of India Today, concedes that translators may sometimes tidy up Trump’s utterances: “In English, Trump may not sound very intelligent, but when you translate that with context in Hindi, it makes him sound much better than he is.”
In this year’s 500 Words story competition run by Radio 2 and open to children aged 5 to 13, Trump’s own name became the object of linguistic innovation with “Boggle Trump” and “Trumplestiltskin” featuring among over 100 new Trump related coinages.
But the final verdict must be left to the man himself. “I know words,” Trump declared at one campaign rally, “I have the best words.”
Taylor Wessing LLP
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