Falsely Badly Bigly

Donald Trump

Donald Trump feels badly for Brett Kavanaugh. He feels terribly for Kavanaugh and his family.

When I hear him say things like this, I feel sadly. In front of reporters with microphones and cameras, which means in front of all the world, when this president says he feels badly, it just makes me feel sickly.

This guy may eventually be called to account for high crimes and misdemeanors; he may eventually leave the national stage in handcuffs. (‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.) In the meantime, for his crimes against English, let the invidious comparisons be pronounced. Let the indictments be read. It will make a few of us feel goodly if we call him to account. . . bigly.

“I’m going to cut taxes bigly.” “We’re going to win bigly.” “Obamacare is about to kick in really bigly.” “Iran is taking over Iraq, bigly.”


Mr. Trump, what’s with the –ly ending? In your presidency, it seems like all you’ve done is ly ly ly.

If he weren’t such a monster, if he had even a tiny bit of self-awareness, this parlance might be kind of cute. He doesn’t. It isn’t. If he had a sense of humor, it could become a little joke. Bigly might humanize him, if not bigly maybe at least small-ly.

I admit it: I would hate to be president. Being president means having a microphone shoved in front of your face all the time. You have to watch yourself. There’s very little wiggle room. You have to formulate a grammatical sentence AND show at least minimal knowledge of what you’re talking about. For some presidents that can feel difficultly.


Carnegie Mellon University conducted a readability analysis of president speeches. No surprise who came out on top, Lincoln. On the bottom, surprisingly, was not the current babbler-in-chief. It was Bush II, remembered for making incisive statements like these:

– “I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.”
– “Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.”
– “In my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”
– “This is still a dangerous world. It’s a world of madmen and uncertainty and potential mental losses.”

Madmen, uncertainty, and mental losses. Indeed.

To show confidence and down-to-earthness, W deployed chatty, informal locutions. Like idn’t, dudn’t, and wudn’t. It dudn’t make that much difference. These are Southernisms. On a website called The Straight Dope: Fighting Ignorance since 1973, a member whose screen name is “An Arky” testifies: “Yeah, I’m from Arkansas, and I talk like that if I don’t watch myself” (my emphasis). So that was Bush being Texan. He watched himself. He talked like that on purpose. It made him seem human, I guess. What can Trump say, and how should he say it, to convey his humanity?

The trouble for him is that we’ve had some good talkers in the Oval Office. Speaker and Gavel, a Minnesota State University publication, cites John Kennedy as an exemplar for eloquence and Ronald Reagan, “the great communicator,” as excellent for his delivery. The authors of the article stipulate, however, that “effective content of [a president’s] discourse is mandatory, even at the subtlest nuances of syntax and lexicon.”

Content, nuance; subtle. No.

not subtle

On April 4, 2018, The Advocate published an article entitled “51 Times Donald Trump Failed at Basic English.” You might roll your eyes. I wouldn’t blame you. There’s an a-hole quality about people who were good at sentence diagramming in junior high and act all superior because they know their grammar. I stand accused. The article examines his tweets, finds them wanting, takes potshots.

In this tweet, for example, in which Trump quotes a New York Post article written about him. “His (Trump’s) is turning out to be an enormously consensual presidency.” Funny, he meant to write consequential. But not funny. In this presidency, especially today, whether something is consensual or not is an issue. Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing and possible misconduct has made it an issue, bigly.

I feel smugly about the grammar stuff. I feel angrily about the values stuff in this presidency, the ethos, the crudeness and vulgarity of a regime that devalues women and minorities and immigrants, about the lie upon lie upon lie. I feel terribly badly about the shape we are in. Good grammar can’t fix it.

We need decent people to restore the well and good. The grammar can take care of itself.

grab em

Leave a Reply