The "Too Troll" Of ISIS

Donald Trump’s speech flubs

Image: John Keogh

Look, people in political power making verbal errors is nothing new (NUKE-YA-LUR), and I’m not here to be gleeful about errors of speech everyone makes from time to time, usually when drunk, but there is something genuinely interesting about language errors. Usually linguists focus on “language acquisition errors”—the kinds of mistakes you make when you’re either a kid learning your first language or a person of any age learning a second language. My friend’s kid speaks in Spoonerisms all the time (“copping shart,” “can you eel this pegg for me?”). My friend’s kid is also three years old. But many of us fall prey to these consonantal flubs when we’re incapacitated (“I’ve only had moo targaritas!”) or tired/old/talking a lot on Television (“Obama Bin Laden”).

During a speech he gave in Riyadh, he spoke of “Islamic” terrorism, rather than “Islamist.” White House officials cried exhaustion:

Official: Trump's 'radical Islamic terrorism' wording changed because he's 'exhausted'

However, Trump has made this error before, which may qualify it as more of a verbal tic (a la “nucular”). But there was also a lot more going on in that speech that we should be talking about. Here comes Mark Liberman at Language Log to give you to full run-down:

  • He also said “Islamicists,” which is the word of Islamic scholarship
  • He said “Druz” and then corrected it to “Jews”
  • He used his signature “interpolated intensifications”—“leadership” became “absolutely incredible and powerful leadership”
  • He said “the [tu trol] of ISIS” instead of “the true toll.”
  • He mispronounced “leaving” as “living” and tried to spin the flub into an aside about “living so poorly they’re forced to leave”
  • He gave “ethnicity” an extra syllable, somehow

-ist vs. -ic in Riyadh

The real story here is not the Islamic/Islamist error, but the sheer number of errors in one speech. As much as I would like to accuse Donald Trump of falling into the “language skills of a three-year-old” category I think it’s pretty clear he’s in the “old/tired/on TV a lot/Bob Schieffer” one. Is that an excuse? Not really. Speaking in public is one of the demands of the job, and some people do it better than others to begin with. But the real test is how you do it under duress. For Trump the answer is: not so great. But there’s not really anything we can do about it, because you can bet he’s not going to take the time to work with an executive speaking coach. So get used to it, this cringing. He may be exhausted, but this is exhausting, so try to find the fun language angle? You have to laugh to keep from crying. Hey, I tried.