Donald Trump Is Ruining English. Don't Let Him.
Written by
Annie Tucker
November 2016
Written by
Annie Tucker
November 2016

I love being an editor. I’ve been one for eighteen years, during which time I’ve learned more than I ever imagined I would when I started working in publishing. Among these many lessons is the importance of knowing when to keep my corrective instincts in check. People don’t like feeling as if they’re being judged every time they speak. So, most of the time, because I know I wouldn’t have a single friend left if I dropped the hammer whenever someone used “lay” instead of “lie” or “your” instead of “you’re,” I make a point of trying to listen holistically to what people say, rather than dissecting their every sentence. I remind myself that language is an ever-evolving thing and that as long as people are expressing themselves somehow, then who am I to tell them to do it a different way?

But then the 2016 election happened, and now I can’t keep quiet anymore.

I voted for Hillary Clinton. I’m devastated that she lost the presidential race to Donald Trump, a man who disturbs me so profoundly that I lack the words to express the depth of my opposition to him. But I’m not here to unleash a political rant or to make predictions about what the president-elect will do once he’s inaugurated. I’m here because, as someone who has devoted her entire career to helping people identify, cultivate, and use their voices, I’m terrified about the havoc Trump is wreaking on the English language and about what that will look like for the American public.

You already know that you have the right to vote for whomever you want. However, if you place any kind of premium on self-articulation, or the power of the written word, or journalistic integrity, then set aside your party affiliations and your views on the other hot buttons dividing the United States right now and consider this: Whenever Trump takes to Twitter or the podium to express himself, he bungles his words beyond repair and in turn implies to millions of people that it’s okay to do so—because this election has proven that even if you have only a fifth-grader’s command of your native tongue by the time you’re seventy years old, you can still be POTUS. In a country where some thirty-two million adults are illiterate, the last thing we need is a president who has the potential, through his own bad example and all the airtime he gets, to do even more quantifiable damage in this regard.

You can have a hand in rectifying this situation. Whenever you read a social media post or hear a speech from Trump, try channeling your own internal editor, instead of accepting at face value—or, worse, duplicating—the many egregious errors he makes, including the following (emphases mine):

  • July 24, 2016: Trump tweeted, “Looks to me like the Bernie people will fight. If not, there blood, sweat and tears was a total waist of time.”
  • August 1, 2016: He complained to Fox News host Sean Hannity, “The New York Times . . . will never write good.”
  • September 26, 2016: During the first presidential debate, he barked at Clinton, “You was totally out of control!”
  • In the same debate, he stated, “I’m going to cut taxes bigly. And you’re going to raise taxes bigly.” (Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper can get as semantic as she wants in insisting that “bigly” is a real word, but repurposing “big” as an adverb will never not seem ridiculous to me and to all the other people who questioned it from the get-go.)

My upset about this isn’t some eye-rolling, elitist attempt to distance myself from Donald Trump just because I know better than to make these kinds of mistakes. It relates much less to my being an editorial control freak than it does to my concern about the possibility for this to become a systemic issue. Although I realize that Trump’s verbal inadequacy is not as monumental a subject as what policies he’ll enact in office, the trickle-down impact of world leaders is massive, and in my corner of the workforce, it’s downright depressing that a lot more people are going to be using the phrase “waist of time” before too long—because if the president spells it that way, it must be right, right?

All this is to say that I’m not going to give up editing anytime in the next four years. If I can help even one author say something not just correctly but eloquently, I’ll feel like I’m playing a small part in enabling people to hold themselves to a higher standard than the standard to which Donald Trump holds himself. And doing my job won’t make his garbled speeches any easier for me to follow, but it will send more good writing out into the world to counteract all the nails-on-a-chalkboard stuff he blurts out.

In the last decade or so, the advent of self-publishing and hybrid publishing has given writers unprecedented access to tools that allow them to share their stories. I support this trend. But now more than ever, the opportunity to formally manifest a piece of your creative mind is an honor and a grave responsibility. Talk is cheap, but a published work is forever, so please, take it seriously. Whatever you set out to write, ask yourself, “What would Donald Trump do?” and then do the opposite: make it beautiful. 

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  • Diane Pomerantz

    The problem is that Trump clearly has a language processing problem ... my guess is, based on his age, that it was never identified as such, but he definitely has one and the correlation of these disorders with attentional disorders is very high.

  • Cathryn Novak

    Thank you so much for defending the correct use of the English language. If "bigly" were truly a word, I would use it to describe my appreciation for your comments. When asked about writing, I've often said that I love words and language and putting phrases together in just the right way to express what I really want to say. Now that I think about it, I guess Donald Trump does use words that truly express his thoughts. Unfortunately that's the problem; his use of language like his thought process is often simplistic,incorrect and mercurial. I am so glad that in this age of tweets, texting,and the example being set by the President elect, there are still people who are willing to fight for the beauty and value of the written word and spoken word.

  • Berna Bolyn

    Mistakes in grammar is the least of my concerns I have about Donald trump.  His character and repetitive nonsense during his campaign remind me of Hitler's hypnotic rhetoric and ability to excite and inspire the masses, and convince people he is a good Christian man but projects the opposite.  I hope and pray I'm wrong and maybe just his ego will make him want to be remembered as something better.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    I love this post, Annie. So helpful, hilarious/sad, and on point. xo

  • Jan Breen

    Have you read an actual transcript of Trump's answer to ANY question? It's always a tsunami of incomplete thoughts, limited vocabulary, repeated phrases, nonsensical words, and unlimited ellipsis. Of course there is no answer to the original question because we are left swimming in an ocean of incomplete sentences often lacking subjects but containing invented adverbs. At first I thought that this was a man with no appreciation for the music of language. I realize now it's an indicator of confusion in his thought process. If I had a student who spoke like this I would request a neurological evaluation.  

  • Thanks! I've invented a name for Trump - #CatastroTrump. Honest, and that since a tweet I sent out yesterday.

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Annie, I have such respect for your knowledge. Thank you for loving our language and teaching so many of us how to use it!

  • Bonnie Council

    This is a terrific post. Thank you. In addition to his awful spelling and grammar, trump is severely adjective-challenged. His vocabulary is so limited one wonders if he cheated his way through school, or maybe Daddy just paid off the teachers. By the way, it's not a typo that his name is not capitalized. I can't. I just can't. I have that little respect for him.

  • Laurie Prim

    This is a great perspective, and count me in. I have noticed an absolute epidemic of "your" instead of "you're" in posts supporting Trump. The occasional typo or spell check is one thing, but who can take anyone who so consistently butchers the English language seriously?

  • Jan Breen

    You are my hero. This is a noble cause, on so many levels.

  • Beatriz Terrazas

    Unfortunately, there is poor grammar and bad spelling across all social media. And much of it comes from admins who purport to know the language and to be expert writers. It's embarrassing, especially for those who are in the business of communications. Even worse is that many of them think that these kinds of errors aren't a big deal because they occur in social media. But, in fact, social media is becoming the advertising and marketing arena for many businesses, small and large, and putting these kinds of errors out there--whether one is running for office or touting his latest product--is akin to sending out that brochure or broadcasting a promo riddled with poor writing. 

  • Jude Anne Crump

    Gosh, I missed those and I'm flabbergasted to see the errors of a high school drop out in a President Elect.  I assume with a rich daddy, Trump went to all the best schools. I wonder if he skipped school and paid someone to do the homework. I hope he hires someone now...and that the Peter Principle has not once again prevailed.

  • Judy Gruen

    Trump's atrocious spelling is embarrassing. However, I see a much more dangerous and insidious abuse of the English language resulting from this election: the reckless taunts of Trump as a "fascist," as well as slams against any Trump voter (no matter how reluctantly that vote was cast) as automatically "racist," "misogynist," and "haters." The protesters-cum-rioters are committing violence, sometimes beating people up and setting files, while flinging around the F-word to refer to both the president-elect and half the voters who chose him over Clinton. Placards at demonstrations display the Nazi swastika in reference to Trump.

    This is so outrageously demeaning to the truth of what Nazism, and what fascism, meant: mass incarcerations, mass killings, torture, starvation, and beatings. If the people throwing out those words actually knew what they meant and actually believed he was capable of carrying these atrocities out, they'd be running away from the U.S.  Instead, there's been a rush of more Mexican immigrants to the border.

    Using such loaded, historically significant terms in reference to Trump shows appalling recklessless and ignorance. As my Russian immigrant hairdresser said to me after the election in reference to these outbursts, "I am from an Eastern bloc country. I know what real oppression is. These people are crazy."

    People on the right who use similarly vile language to demean the left are just as much at fault. But now, it is the left that is trying to normalize and justify their hate-filled, offensive language. And violent language leads to violent emotions and behavior. As just one instance, "comedienne" Wanda Sykes, appearing last week in Boston at the annual Comics Come Home fundraiser for the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care, used her opportunity to entertain the crowd for a good cause to call Trump a "racist, sexist and homophobic." When the audience booed her, she responded with "F- you! F- You! F-You!," before giving the audience the finger and walking off stage. Unfortunately, this example is not rare.

    Using the ugliest curse words, and cheapening history by the careless use of words like "Nazi" or "fascist," etc, surely must make the misspelling of "waste" for "waist" pale in comparison.

    I hope that Ms. Tucker would agree that doing the opposite of what Trump might do (which still very much remains to be seen) and "make it beautiful" includes an equally strong caution against such ugly, hate-filled demonization against the president-elect and the 50 million people (including minorities and immigrants) who voted for him. 

  • Mary Langer Thompson

    Thank you from a retired high school English teacher.

  • Nina Angela McKissock

    Indeed. I wince when I see how the Millenials use a ridiculous amount of exclamation points. I feel as though a cheerleader is sending me all my messages.