Ms. Giordano is a writer and public speaker who is interested in politics and history.
Every year the folks that create and manage dictionaries choose a “Word of the Year.” Words are selected based on usage in the previous year.
“Surreal” and "post-truth” were both selected as the words of the year in January 2017. Merriam-Webster chooses words based on the number of people conducting an internet search for a particular word. For 2017, they chose “surreal.” The dictionary definition of this adjective is: “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” The word is used to express a reaction to something shocking or surprising; something we don’t want to believe, or something that is beyond reality.
The Oxford Dictionary chooses its word by looking for a new word that adds significantly to the English language. For 2017, their choice was “post-truth.” They define this word as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Note: In 2018, Merriam-Webster chose “feminism” and Oxford chose “youthquake.” While these words are very appropriate choices in light of the events of 2017, they don’t pack quite the punch of “surreal” and “post-truth.”
The 2017 words of the year got me thinking about which words I would nominate for 2018. My selection criteria were words or terms that had entered common usage that either did not exist or were very uncommon before “the age of Trump.”
10 Words You Never Heard Until the Trump Presidency
Below is my list of 10 words and terms that you had probably never heard of before January 2017. I’ll put them roughly in rank order starting with the ones I consider most important and ending with one that is merely funny.
I’m putting "lies" at the top of the list even though it is not a new word. It heads the list because it is now being used in ways that it has never been used before.
Traditionally, the media would tread lightly by using typical euphemisms that they usually employ when politicians lie. Donald Trump was also treated in this gentle way in the beginning.
The media has always favored words like “untruth,” “false statement,” “falsehood,” “misstatement,” “misleading statement,” “incorrect statement,” “not true,” “not truthful,” and “inaccurate.” They just wouldn’t straight-up callout a lie.
Finally, it got too be too much. They started using the word “lies” and “liar.” They started using those words defiantly. They even started to report lots of stories devoted to how much Trump lies.
On May 1, 2018, The Washington Post ran a story reporting that they had fact-checked Trump and found that he had told 3000 lies during his first 15 months as president. Not only did they say that Trump lied all the time, they said that the pace of his lying has gotten worse.
- In the first 100 days, he told 4.9 lies a day; in the last two months, he doubled the pace, telling an average of nine lies a day.
- Additionally, Trump is recycling his old lies. There are 113 lies that he has repeated at least three times apiece.
We all know that Trump is a habitual liar. I call him “The Lyin’ King.” The jury is still out on whether or not he actually believes his own lies.
Donald Trump Is a Prevaricator
"Normalize" is a verb meaning "to make normal." I don’t think I had ever heard the word used in everyday speech before. Now it is most commonly being used in connection with Donald Trump. He constantly does outrageous things that are so far out of the bounds of what we consider normal behavior in politics and governance. We need to be careful not to normalize the behaviors he displays. This means that we should not consider them to be examples of normal behavior.
On the day after the election, Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, warned us about the normalization of outrageous behavior in her article: Autocracy: The Rules of Survival. Rule #4 was “Be Outraged." She wrote, “…In the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock.”
"Weaponize" means "to equip something with weapons or to adapt something for use as a weapon." For instance, trucks can be weaponized by equipping them with machine guns, or anthrax (a bacterium) can be weaponized for use in biological warfare.
"Weaponize" was previously used when talking about warfare; now it is used when talking about politics.
For instance, Donald Trump has weaponized Twitter. He uses it to rally his base, to spread misinformation, to attack, ridicule, and bully his political enemies, and more.
Donald Trump weaponizes just about everything. I did a Google search, and on the first page of results, I found references to the ways that Trump weaponized the Supreme Court, the NFL, the Justice Department, the National Enquirer, and the public’s distrust of the media.
4. Fake News
Donald Trump also inflames the public’s distrust of the media by calling just about everything they print or say “fake news." He uses the phrase constantly. The news he deems fake is actually true. Reputable news organizations are very careful to fact-check everything before they report it. If they make the occasional mistake, they quickly acknowledge it and correct it. Trump doesn’t like the news because it exposes his misdeeds, so he calls it fake.
Trump hijacked the term "fake news." It was originally a term used to describe lies that were dressed up as news to serve as click-bait for news outlets. These web articles would have a sensational headline followed by a story that sounded like news, but wasn’t. The posts often appeared on websites that looked like representatives of real media sources like newspapers, but the source was simply a mock-up. (Read the full story at NPR.)
The fake-news creators usually wrote posts to appeal to the Right because that group would give the item lots of shares. If they tried to appeal to the Left, it didn’t work, because liberals would fact-check the item, quickly determine that it was fake, and the item would not get shares and clicks.
In 2016, agents of the Russian government posed as Americans and took fake news to a whole new level when they weaponized Facebook. They used Facebook to spread lies about Trump’s primary opponents and Hillary Clinton. They even used Facebook to promote rallies that they set up not only to support Trump, but also to promote dissent around social issues like race relations. In February of 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller determined that there was enough evidence to issue an indictment against 17 Russians for their malicious use of social media to meddle in the election. (Read the full story at CBSNews.com.)
It's Just News, Not Fake News
5. Witting and Unwitting
Not too long ago, I wrote a comment on Facebook and used the word “witting” to mean the opposite of unwitting. A troll complained that “witting” was not a word. He was wrong. "Witting" is an adjective that means to be aware of something or to do something deliberately. The word goes back to the Middle Ages. The troll probably thought it wasn’t a word because it is not often used. However, I now hear it said all the time on news shows.
Here is a quote from an article written by John R. Schlinder, an American security expert, and published in The Observer, a British newspaper. “America’s most experienced spy boss [Jim Clapper] publicly termed our president an asset—that is, a witting agent—of the Kremlin who is being controlled by Vladimir Putin.” (Read the full story at The Observer.)
To be fair, some say that Trump is only an unwitting stooge of the Kremlin. They think that Trump could be what the Russians call a “useful idiot.” but Trump's supporters most likely think he is not a stooge at all.
"Collusion” is another word that we didn’t hear very much until Trump became president. It means "a secret agreement, especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose."
Trump says this word all the time at rallies and when answering the questions of reporters. “No Collusion. No Collusion.” He likes to put it in all caps when he uses the word in a tweet.
In a 30 minute interview with reporters from The New Times conducted in December, 2017, Trump said the word “collusion” 23 times without being prompted—which is almost once per minute. Trump seems to use the word obsessively. (Read the full story from The Washington Post.)
What Trump should be saying is “No conspiracy.” If Trump ever gets indicted, the charge will be conspiracy, because collusion is not a crime. He should be worried about the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which is also known as "RICO law." This law was originally designed to prosecute “the mob,” but since its establishment, it has been used in other cases.
Trump can be found guilty of conspiracy-related crimes even if he didn’t personally commit any of the crimes covered under the law. He can be found guilty if he merely knew of the general status of the conspiracy and if he knew that the conspiracy extended beyond his individual role. (Read the provisions of the RICO law at The Center for American Progress' website.)
In Russia, "kompromat" refers to compromising material or any damaging information that can be used to control someone. It is like blackmail, but instead of demanding money, the demand is for loyalty.
The Russians sometimes use kompromat to induce someone from another country to become a spy. If a person can be induced to commit a small crime, even if it is done unwittingly, that person can subsequently be controlled with the threat of exposure.
Kompromat can consist of any damaging information, but it is most often sexual in nature. And that brings us to our next term, “pee tape.”
Place Your Bets
8. Pee Tape
I don’t think anyone has ever put the words “pee” and “tape” together before. The “pee tape,” sometimes called the “pee-pee tape," refers to information provided in the now famous “Steele Dossier” article that was first published by BuzzFeed. Note: At the time that this article was written, many of the allegations in the dossier have been verified, but the salacious allegations have not been proven to be either true or false.
The dossier consists of 17 intelligence reports assembled by Christopher Steele, a former M16 operative and Russia specialist. One of the reports details an event involving Donald Trump’s activities in his room at the Russian Ritz-Carleton when he stayed there while producing the Miss Universe Pageant.
The tape, if it exists, shows Trump watching two prostitutes peeing on a bed. Trump is said to have wanted to defile the bed because it was the one Obama slept on during a presidential visit to Moscow.
James Comey was FBI Director after the 2016 election. He wanted to give Trump a heads-up, so he told him about the FBI investigation into possible Russian interference in the election and the Steele dossier which included allegations of a pee tape.
Comey was fired by Trump a few months later because of, as Trump said, "the Russia thing.” Comey discussed the pee tape in his book, A Higher Loyalty. He said that Trump seemed to be obsessed with the pee tape, he repeatedly asked him about it, and repeatedly denied its existence.
Trump has also said that there could be no pee tape because he did not stay overnight in Russia. That alibi has been proven to be false—Trump stayed at least one night in Russia during the pageant.
I don’t know if the pee tape exists, but I think Russia does not need the pee tape to blackmail Donald Trump because they know about other crimes Trump has committed. Based on news reports, I think it is very likely that Trump was involved in money-laundering for Russian oligarchs. (See a news report about that story on NPR.)
The term "fixer" is not used by Donald Trump and it does not apply to him. It refers to his long-term associate and personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Evidently, Mr. Cohen styles himself as “a fixer,” like the character in the Showtime series Ray Donovan.
A fixer is someone who works for the rich and famous and quietly cleans up their various crimes and sexual indiscretions. He makes the evidence and repercussions “go away.”
Mr. Cohen became famous because of a $130,000 payment he made to an adult film actress (or porn star), Stormy Daniels, about ten days before the election. It was given to her as payment for signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) about her sexual relationship with Donald Trump. In plain English, it was hush-money. Stormy wanted to be released from the NDA, so she hired a lawyer, Micheal Avenatti, to handle her case.
Mr. Cohen is now in “a fix” that he probably can’t fix. He is being investigated for numerous “white-collar” crimes such as bank fraud, money laundering, and selling access to the president. The FBI obtained a search warrant for his home and office and, as of this writing, indictments are expected. (Read the full story from The New York Times.)
I just had to include "covfefe" because it is so funny. Trump used this word in a tweet. Apparently, he fell asleep while writing the tweet. The funny thing is that he refused to admit it went out by mistake. Trump and all his spokespersons insisted that the word had a secret meaning known only to Trump’s inner circle.
People began to joke about what the word could mean. I think Hillary Clinton came up with the best line. She was speaking at a conference that day and she told the audience, “I thought it was a hidden message to the Russians."
What Does "Covfefe" Mean?
Bonus: Variations on Trump’s Name
Trump has such a great name for wordplay. You can attach so many suffixes to it. Here are some new words and terms that have been created to describe various aspects of this political era.
The doctrine of Donald Trump. This word describes the policy and leadership of Trump (Trumpian and Trumpist have a similar meaning).
A person who loudly proclaims Trump's attributes and accomplishments.
A supporter of Donald Trump. Also Trumpite.
People who blindly support Donald Trump. This word is an analogue of the word "junkies."
A follower of Donald Trump. This word is not surprisingly, an analogue of the word "gangster."
A female supporter of Donald Trump and an analogue of "strumpet."
An operative for Donald Trump. It is similar to "Sandanista," which are revolutionary guerrillas in Nicaragua.
America under the rule of Trump.
A roly-poly guy who likes walls.
There are other clever and relevant terms circulating in the vernacular. Feel free to add them in the comments section.
I could have easily done a much longer list. I left out some good terms like "witch hunt," "bigly," "deep-state," "counter-puncher," "rocket man," "emoluments," and "s***hole" because of space limitations.
What words would you add to the list? Use the comments section to list the words you want to nominate as "Trump-Words."
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Who coined the term “fake news”? What is the origin of the term “fake news”?
Answer: I'm going to give the credit for the term “fake news” to Craig Silverman, an editor at BuzzFeed. In 2014, He was studying online misinformation as a fellow at Columbia University. He discovered something new: He said he found “websites that looked like real websites and wrote things in a news style, but everything was 100 percent fake.” He called it “fake news” in his blog "Regret the Error."
When Silverman became an editor at Buzz Feed, he continued his interest in online fake news. He discovered a cluster of websites from Macedonia that were publishing false pro-Trump and anti-Hillary stories. These false stories got hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook and other social media. Some of these articles became hugely popular; sometimes they got more than twice as many shares as legitimate news stories about the candidates in mainstream media, like the New York Times.
It is hard to pin down who first used the term in the mainstream media. Some say the credit goes to the New York Times in a report about the fake story dubbed “PizzaGate.” According to this fake story, Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta were running a child sex operation from the basement of a popular pizzeria in Washington DC.
This story was so ridiculous I don’t know how anyone could believe it to be true, but apparently some did. In December of 2016, a North Carolina man went to the pizza restaurant with a military-style assault weapon and began shooting. He said he wanted to rescue the children. (There were no children because there was no pedophile operation.) Fortunately, no one was hurt. The shooter was sentenced to four years in prison and had to pay $5,744 in restitution for property damage at the pizzeria.
This incident shows that fake news can cause serious harm. It is not just political “dirty tricks” or a way to have fun by spreading ugly stories about someone you dislike.
© 2018 Catherine Giordano