What is that word—or words—that Donald Trump throws into the middle of basically everything he says?
There are a great many fronts to Donald Trump’s war on language. He is so bad at syntax, your head will spin. But if there’s one term that serves as central base for Trump’s assault, a defining Trumpism that is his go-to means of superfluous emphasis, it is bigly.
Or is that big league?
For the longest time, to this Trump observer at least, it sounded like bigly. Is this even a word? Maybe? That would hardly matter for Trump. For a grandiose figure who demonstrates, at least in public, a limited, essentials-only vocabulary, it would make sense that this wordlike entity appeals to him. Big is your simplest adjective for something that is, well, big—in scope or size. And what to do if you need to express this in adverb form, as our loquacious entertainer frequently does? Append a -ly to the end of that sucker, per the elementary school heuristic. Bigly.
That’s how many chroniclers of our would-be national leader have transcribed it. Iran is taking over Iraq, “and they’re taking it over bigly.” As in, Iran isn’t screwing around with this Iraq-takeover business. “Obamacare kicks in in 2016, really bigly.” Whatever Obamacare was prior to 2016 will be no match for the Godzilla Obamacare that hits streets in the new year. “I’m talking about illegal immigrants … at least Fox is being honest because they’re now talking about it bigly.” Illegal immigration had been on Fox News’ radar, but until Trump mentioned it, they hadn’t grappled with the issue in a serious manner.
But what if this is not at all what Donald Trump has been saying? Could it be that at the end of term, he taps out a hard g sound? In a write-up of its Trump interview earlier this month, CNN transcribed Trump saying the following: “I’m a believer, big league, in God and the Bible.” Here’s a man who doesn’t just dabble in Christianity—he’s the real McCoy. “Mexico is ripping off the United States big league, and we have to do something about it.” They’re not skimming a buck off the top here or there, they’re emptying the vault into burlap sacks. “Personally I’d put on the sanctions [on Iran] big league. I’d double and triple up the sanctions and make a deal from strength.” The absolute big-league-est sanctions you’ve ever seen.
So which is it—bigly or big league? Or does he flip a coin each morning to determine which one he’ll go with that day?
“It’s big league,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks tells Slate. Oh? OK then.
This could just be typical political spin. The only way to determine for yourself is to watch the above montage. As with all great art, there is no correct interpretation.