Word Nerd: 5 expressions from the US presidential election

31 Oct


One of the most historically significant elections of our lifetime is coming up on November 8 in the US. Unfortunately, each presidential election seems longer and more absurd than the last, resulting in trivialized campaigns riddled with half-truths and lies, and a bitterly divided electorate. Developing new shorthand for all kinds of absurdities seems to be the only way to survive. We bring you five of the many expressions that this campaign has thrown up (pun totally intended).

1. Dumpster fire. Often used to refer to the campaign of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump. In American English, it refers not only to actual garbage on fire, but also to a chaotic situation. An expert at the University of Pennsylvania reckons that sports broadcasters may have helped popularize the term ‘dumpster fire’. The word ‘dumpster’ was invented when Dempster Brothers, Knoxville, Tennessee, patented their Dempster-Dumpster garbage disposal system. But over time, ‘dumpster’ became a generic term for any giant garbage container.

2. Bigly. At several points during the campaign, media reported Trump as using the word ‘bigly’ (“We are suffering bigly”, “We’re going to win bigly”, “I’m going to cut taxes bigly”). People got a laugh out of what they took to be Trump’s made-up word. Then someone decided to look it up and found that ‘bigly’ was indeed a word, but an obsolete one that meant forcefully or boastfully. Then linguistics experts did audio analyses and suggested that Trump was really saying “big league”, not “bigly”. A few days ago, Trump confirmed they were right.

3. Locker-room talk. Recently, an old video surfaced in which Donald Trump could be heard bragging about sexually assaulting women. When confronted, he dismissed it as “locker-room banter”, implying that sportsmen in locker rooms often boast about molesting women. Many athletes spoke out in disgust, saying they had never heard such talk in locker rooms. Others highlighted the difference between actual banter and descriptions of assault. Still others pointed out that Trump has engaged in “locker-room talk” in his workplace, which is no locker room. Bragging about sexual assault is not defensible in any context.

4. Bernie bros. Oddly, when you google this term, the first hit is Lawrence Sanders, the actual ‘bro’ of Senator Bernie Sanders. The 74-year-old Bernie is surprisingly popular with younger voters, and was Hillary Clinton’s strongest rival for the Democratic Party nomination. Some of Sanders’ young male supporters were accused of aggressively and unfairly targeting Clinton at rallies and on social media. In American English, ‘bro’ often refers to not-so-cerebral young men who hang out with other not-so-cerebral young men. So ‘Bernie bros’ are Sanders’ supporters who are seen as rabidly anti-Clinton. Sanders’ campaign has acknowledged and addressed the issue.

5. False equivalence. This term is, like some others above, not unique to the election. Generally, it refers to the error of treating two very different things as if they were similar. In this context, it refers to the fact that the media have treated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as equals, which they are not. Trump has no political experience, while Clinton stands head and shoulders above even conventional male politicians – she was the first lady of Arkansas and then of the US, then a senator, and then Secretary of State. An Ivy League law graduate, she spent much of her life working for children’s and women’s rights. Trump, meanwhile, is a businessman with an inheritance and questionable success, and a brash reality TV star, who deliberately appeals to bigots and openly incites violence. Even his own party recognizes that he is not Hillary’s equivalent – while Democrats stand behind their nominee, many top Republicans have publicly distanced themselves from Trump, and even declared they will vote for Clinton.

What are your favorite buzzwords from the US election? Email us or leave a comment below! Check out previous Word Nerd posts here!

By: Uma Asher

(Cartoon by DonkeyHotey, used under CC license)

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