There isn’t much to laugh about these days, what with President Twitterfingers over here spending more time trying to make it look like he’s not colluding with Russia than actually leading our country. But on May 31st, for almost six hours, Trump managed to provide the internet with the sort of joy usually only triggered by such disastrous events as Fyrefest or, for those of us who are old and grey and used to walk to school in the snow, Dashcon (you get an extra hour in the ballpit, guys! Yay!)
The original tweet was posted around midnight EST, and taken down at 5:50 am. During that brief window of time, however, it was seen and screenshot by the internet, intent as always on documenting and preserving such a glorious example of the profound, goofy stupidity of a man who has nothing better to do, despite being the leader of the free world, than sit around and accuse the press of lying about him (presumably, covfefe is supposed to be coverage? The tweet trailed off into nothingness, the unfinished sentence giving no indication of what it was that was happening despite the negative press covfefe).
While yes, covfefe is hilarious, it’s also an example of the profound effect that Donald Trump is having on the English language as a whole. Every misspelled tweet or “bigly” moment sends us scrambling to the dictionary to check and make sure that we’re not crazy, that we heard what we heard correctly (apparently, he said “big league”- if you watch some of the older episodes of The Apprentice, in the opening credits, he talks about winning big league- which isn’t any less stupid). But such phrases as “alternative facts,” which he didn’t even say himself, have worked their way into our cultural lexicon, along with “fake news,” and his personal favorite, the acronym “MAGA”- or Make America Great Again. He seems to have a relationship with the English language that involves making up words for existing words that he can’t be bothered to implement, either through ignorance (what grown man calls a group of terrorists “losers?”) or laziness (he can’t be bothered to say his own campaign slogan. Then again, MAGA is much more tweetable) or, what seems to be the most prolific throughout all of this: his use of misleading words- his vendetta against the “fake news” media,
The study of linguistic relativity is centered around the belief that the structure of a language affects the speaker’s world view or cognition. There are all kinds of theories on this topic, ranging from whether or not language determines the range of cognitive process to whether people who speak different languages have different thought processes entirely. In one particular study of the Brazilian Piraha people, it was found that speakers of the indigenous language could not conceive of numbers greater than one and two, because those words simply did not exist in their language. Instead, greater numbers became “small,” “many,” or “somewhat larger,” indicating that though their language lacked the numerical words to express these numbers, it did possess other words that could be used to convey roughly the same idea. Donald Trump does not live in a country where the language does not possess the words necessary to accurately portray specific ideas. The breadth and scope of the English language is such that complex ideas can be expounded upon in great detail and be boiled back down as to be understandable to a child without any essence being lost. If Donald Trump is confusing and misleading, with all of the English language quite literally at his fingertips, it is either because he is intentionally being misleading, or, just as likely, he is mentally incapable of finding the words he’s looking for to express his ideas. Both ideas are equally upsetting, and as funny as covfefe is, do we really want or need a president who can’t be bothered to make himself understood?