September 28, 2016

“Sounds good. Doesn’t work.” Buzzwords from the first presidential debate


Some words just sound better than others. Illustration by Carly Miller.

We’ve recently written about a venerable dictionary publisher admonishing mankind for its racism and intolerance on Twitter.  Today, in connection with the Monday night’s first presidential debate, the story is more like a venerable dictionary publisher admonishing one man over Twitter for his misuse of a word (while being generally racist and intolerant).

The man? Donald Trump. The word? Braggadocious. The tweet?

Merriam-Webster followed up with a statement clarifying that the word as Trump used it (and indeed, has used it before) is real, but too antiquated to merit a listing in the dictionary.

In fact, Merriam-Webster has been busy leading up to and winding down from the debate, tracking the increased flow of traffic to politically-tinged entries like “cyber” (Trump used it as an ultra-vague noun, though it is best used as an adjective or prefix), “temperament” (as in “does either candidate have the temperament to be president?”), and “cavalier” (an adjective that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama often use to describe Tump’s attitude; a noun describing a basketball player in Cleveland). Even “Skittle” got a bump.

But to focus on English speakers trying to make sense of other English speakers would be to miss key demographics with skin in this debate. There are all kinds of speakers taking to the Web, trying to make sense of this. For one, as the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey reports, Google searches for “registrarse para votar” (Spanish for “register to vote”) reached an all-time high (over 100,000 hits) during the debate.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.