The Election in Words: How Linguistics Played an Important Role Between Hillary and Trump

Words hold power, and anyone who has been called a name on a school yard, or branded by their peers as different, will know that words can sometimes cut to the core. Words can grant freedom, make people feel loved, ensure a nation’s security, or they can be used to demoralize and tear people apart. You may or may not realize it, but during this presidential campaign, some words and phrases had a significant impact on voters and who they elected. Let’s have a look at some of the keywords and phrases that have really packed a political punch during this presidential election.

Photo via Wikimedia

Unfortunately, during this presidential election, we’ve seen more harmful and hurtful words than anything else. Take a look at Donald Trump’s insults towards Hillary Clinton. He called her “Crooked Hillary” and a “nasty woman” (coincidentally Janet Jackson’s song “Nasty” has experienced a resurgence in popularity). Of course, we know that Trump had used words like ‘crooked’ and ‘dishonest’ as well as alleging that she had been involved in criminal activities, including the email-FBI-check-it-again scandal which had been recently resolved only days before the election. His tactics worked, though, as a poll from the Huffington post showed the most popular word used to describe Clinton and her campaign was “liar/lying”. Conversely, the most common word used to describe Trump was “arrogant”.

Words, words, and more words

Unsurprisingly, there were more negative words than positive ones used by those polled to describe both the candidates and the election. Words like “dishonest, untrustworthy, crooked,” and “criminal,” for Clinton; while Trump faced words like “asshole, racist, idiotic,” and “loud mouth.” The whole election has been described overwhelmingly as “crazy”, with “scary, circus-like,” and “a bad joke” thrown in for good measure.

This election has also seen new and old brandings brought to the forefront that attempted to scare voters into reacting. The pejorative term “anchor baby,” was used by Trump to highlight immigration issues that he will be itching to take care of as President-elect.  “Anchor baby,” refers to a baby born within a country (in this case the United States) to a mother who does not have US citizenship, but by giving birth to her baby on US soil, has given that child the right to claim citizenship.

Trump also took to calling people “losers,” and “low-energy”; the latter term referring to the insignificant amount of power another candidate holds or exerts. Trump had used this against previous Republican nominees during Republican nominee debates, condemning other candidates to the “kid’s table,” another way of saying that they have been sidelined from the political debate and indeed from playing any role at all.

Made-up words gone mainstream

Made-up words, used as if they are actual words also played a “yuge” part in Donald Trump’s political campaign. The word “bigly” was thrown around to describe exactly how things were to change. While not in the common vernacular, the word is real, dating back to the 15th century meaning “loudly and proudly.” That being said, many voters thought he was just making stuff up.

Suffixes were also created and developed during this election: take for example -ghazi. The suffix is added to a word to illustrate controversy, whether real or imagined. It can also be used to show that the controversy is being over exaggerated. It comes from a terrorist attack that happened in Benghazi, Libya while Clinton was Secretary of State, where 4 Americans were killed. The controversy surrounding the way the situation was handled and the way people like Clinton reacted to it, created this suffix. Another is -mentum, coming from the word “momentum” meaning the pull and popularity that any one candidate or idea may be gaining at the present moment. Bernie-mentum then would be talking about the growth and strength the Bernie Sanders campaign had at the beginning of the 2017 election campaign.

The results are in and the U.S. definitely has a few choice words

Looking over the words we’ve highlighted, you’ll notice two things: one, there is little to no positive meaning in any of the terms used or coined, and, two, these words are simple, basic, and not particularly erudite. These words did not imply an intelligent, well-spoken campaign, but rather a mudslinging contest to see whose insults could cut the deepest. The race was neck and neck up until the very end and now, ladies and gentlemen, we give you President-elect Donald Trump. Now the question on everyone’s mind: how will the words #NotMyPresident continue to evolve?

Photo via Flickr