Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump exchanged quite a number of words during Monday night’s presidential debate — 14, 051 words by The New York Times’ count. Some were, of course, more meaningful than others, and some sent viewers to their dictionaries.
Or rather, to a dictionary website.
Four words in particular began trending on searches at Merriam-Webster during and after the debate.
Bigly . . . or Big League?
Trump has been emphasizing his points for years with two syllables that sometimes sound like bigly and sometimes like big league. If your job is to write transcripts or subtitles, this can make your life difficult. For the rest of us, this is little more than a curiosity. Both versions are acceptable, and either would apply.
Big league is an idiom drawn from baseball indicating the upper echelons or the highest of professional standards. The phrase has been in use for at least 100 years, but, according to Merriam-Webster’s editors, normally in an adjectival sense. Trump’s use of it adverbially is uncommon.
Bigly is rather rare these days. If we go back to Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2nd Edition (the infamous dord dictionary), we find not only that bigly relates to big in the same way that hugely relates to huge or greatly to great, but two other definitions as well: “strongly; forcefully; violently” and “in a swelling, blustering manner; haughtily; pompously.”
In Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Braggadochio is the personification of boasting. From that, we get braggadocio, meaning “empty boasting” or “cockiness,” which, as Italian as it sounds, might ultimately have grown from the same Gaelic root that gave us bray.
Braggadocious is a little-used American-made adjectival form of braggadocio. Use of the word appears to be on the rise — it even shows up in the latest ads for FOX’s new Lethal Weapon series.
When Lester Holt asked Donald Trump to clarify what he meant when he said that Hillary Clinton didn’t have “the presidential look,” Trump responded that she didn’t have the stamina to be president.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has a nice little sidebar about the history of stamina that goes back to the myth of the three Fates, who spun, measured, and cut the stamina — or threads — of mortal life. (Stamina was originally plural.)
Today, stamina usually means “staying power; endurance,” although one tweet and its unholy 666 retweets indicate that Donald Trump might have inadvertently coined a new euphemism:
We all agree “stamina” is a euphemism for a penis, right?
— Kate Sheppard (@kate_sheppard) September 27, 2016
Trump also argued that Clinton did not have the right temperament to be the president. Though he was a bit vague about what kind of temperament he believed Clinton to have, he assured the audience that he had “a winning temperament.”
While some may have latched on to the related word temperamental, which has taken on a negative connotation meaning “moody; unpredictable; impulsive,” the base word temperament doesn’t necessarily carry those connotations. Temperament is simply the normal attitude, behavior, or mood of a particular person.
With two more presidential debates and seemingly endless campaigning to come, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and their speechwriters) are sure step onto some interesting linguistic ground over the next month. Sometimes it’ll be new ground, and sometimes shaky ground, but it will certainly be of interest to word watchers of all stripes.