An Explanation?

As most of my friends and associates know, I did not support Donald Trump’s camapign for the presidency, and it is my hope to have as little to do with his administration as I can get away with. However, neither am I particularly interested in proving him to be the Antichrist or a slack-jawed imbecile, which puts me at odds with most of my facebook feed.

One thing that lots of my writer and academic friends like to do in the process of knocking Trump is jeer at his use of the word bigly. What a maroon, right?

Well, maybe not so much. Trump’s mother was a Scots immigrant, and a facebook friend contended that far from being a neologism or solecism, bigly is in fact a Scots word, if a rather archaic one, and that he may have picked the word up in his childhood. As I find stuff like that of more than passing interest, I decided to go to the mountaintop, or at least the Oxford English Dictionary. Sure enough, there were actually two different entries for the word. I took a look at the adverbial form (as opposed to the adjectivial usage), and found that it can be used to mean forcefully or with strength and vigor. Admittedly, it’s not a common word, but it has a pretty long history — the first cited use is around 1380-1400, and the most recent citation in the entry appears in Hugh Walpole‘s Fortitude (1913). And now, perhaps, there may be another.

Of course, none of this is proof that Trump knows or knew the word — it may well have been misspoken, or the result of inarticulacy. However, it does at least offer plausible deniability, I think, and I have to admit that I would find a certain charm in the idea that this obscure word has reappeared thanks to an intrafamilial transmission.

Still wouldn’t vote for him, though.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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3 Responses to An Explanation?

  1. Andrew Stevens says:

    I only heard him say it once and thought it was clear he was trying to say “big league.”

    • profmondo says:

      Yeah, I’ve had some other folks say that as well. Still, I’ve seen the sneer pop up enough online that I thought it was worth a look. Thanks as always for dropping by!

  2. Jeff says:

    To my great surprise, I saw “bigly” come up in a book only yesterday: a biography of Benton MacKaye, the progressive, Harvard-educated designer of the Appalachian Trail and co-founder of the Wilderness Society. In a letter to his sister in the early 1930s, MacKaye praises a fellow conservationist, a colleague at the Forest Service who did right by him: “He is one of the few real big men of the country. Not the bigly known men but the real thing.”

    I don’t think MacKaye’s use of the word tells us anything about Trump (whom I’m certain is just saying “big league”), but his use of “bigly known” to suggest men whose reputations exceed their worth is interesting, especially since here too it comes from someone with Scottish roots, in this case writing privately to a sibling.

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