20 April 2017 – Mud-slinging by Donald Trump, as well as his supporters and critics, has not only affected political debate, it has created a vocabulary of insults that lexicographers are struggling to keep up with, as each side becomes more linguistically creative in their bid to knock 10 bells out of social media opponents.
Trumponomics (the president’s economic policy), trumpertantrum (angry early-morning tweeting laced with innuendo and falsehood) and trumpkin (a pumpkin carved to resemble the former TV host) are among neologisms added to a watchlist of words that may be fast-tracked into the Oxford English Dictionary. They follow in the wake of new coinages created by the political upheaval of the last two years, including “alt-right” and “Brexit”, which were added to the reference bible last year.
Eleanor Maier, OED associate editor, was quoted about the OED procedure and said a word would usually have been around for about 10 years before being added to the dictionary, but exceptions are made if a word achieves wide currency quickly and can be used without explanation. In a news clip on BBC she said:
Not everything we log will satisfy our inclusion criteria and some of them are likely to be relatively short-lived. But it means we have a record of the usage and a place to add evidence and developments.
Maier also said that social media had fast-tracked some words, beyond a relatively small pool of politically active Twitter users, to the wider population.
Trump had given rise to one of the largest groups of words on the watchlist, which is used to monitor potential new additions to the dictionary, which is effectively the canon for standard British English. Other Trumpian additions include: Trumpflation, the inflation analysts predict will be caused by the new administration’s economic policies; and Trumpist (a Trump supporter), Trumpette (a female Trumpist) and Trumpista (a rare Hispanic Trumpist).
But Maier has warned that the rapid rise of Trumpisms did not guarantee the U.S. president his own section when the OED is next updated:
It may seem that the current political situation has given rise to new words at a faster rate than before, but it would be interesting to see if Lincoln, Reagan, Thatcher, and Clinton, for example, inspired at the time a similar number of short-lived, and now forgotten, neologisms.
As well as words that play on the president’s surname, words attributed to the extremes of the political spectrum have been added, though some may not outlive the recent election. Healther, which was based on “birther” and means a person who believes that Hilary Clinton has a serious, undisclosed illness, is likely to go the same way as the Democrat presidential candidate’s election campaign. But Vichy Republican, used by the left to describe a Republican who supports Trump because it is expedient, may live longer if the president’s shoot-from-the-lip style makes his party dump him mid-term.
NOTE: British political woes have also contributed to the watchlist. Heading those that could make it into the dictionary is “Bremainian”, used by Brexit supporters about their disappointed referendum opponents. “Brexit” was added to the OED last year, and is the highest profile word to use “exit” as a suffix.
Citing Texit/Calexit (the hypothetical withdrawal of Texas/California from the US), Maier said:
The –exit suffix seems to be following the model of –gate suffix, in giving rise to a number of ephemeral words. So it may be that in the future, the –exit suffix is a dictionary entry in its own right.
One term in common usage but not on the list is “snowflake”, used to describe entitled young people hypersensitive to insult or offence. Writer Chuck Palahniuk coined the label in his novel Fight Club, when his character Tyler Durden said: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.” Palahniuk has said he had no regrets that the word is most often used by rightwingers to denigrate idealistic young leftists. He called it “the new Victorianism” by which he meant every generation gets offended by different things. And he has noted the modern left “is always reacting to things. Once they get their show on the road culturally they will stop being so offended.”