Word of the Day: “Trumpery”

“I have sold all my Trumpery: not a counterfeit Stone, not a Ribbon, Glass, Pomander, Brouch  to keep my Pack from fasting,” Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale IV.4.598

breadI came across a new word the other day: trumpery. I knew it was one for our family word game. We play a fun game called “cognates,” where we find a word and see how we can connect it to other words. It’s a nerdy game, but kind of fun. Granted, it’s more long-drive-in-the-car fun than Saturday-night-feature fun, but it works for us and sneaks a love for words into my son’s life without him knowing it. I don’t do research, but am always looking for new words.

As soon as I saw the word “trumpery” I wondered whether it was connected to other words, like “trumpet,” “triumph,” and Screwtape’s demonic colleague, Slimtrumpet. And, how can we forget, there is the word “trump”–perhaps the verbal root of “trumpery.” Once an everyday word, “trump” has now become a top google search term.

critics_want_trump_name_off_building_1200x675_583585347620One of the fascinating things about this American election–fascinating as in when we slow down in traffic to look at the bloody accident and all the flashing lights–is how Donald Trump has branded himself. In campaign speeches, I don’t think he has ever made the link between his name and the noun and verb forms of “Trump.” It’s pretty cool, actually, when you think about a man named Trump who has invested in casinos where card games fill the floor, even if the casinos haven’t all been winners.

blog_trump_cardThough the campaign team hasn’t made the link, Trump has been running this election with the brand of “Winner” as key to his image. Trump prides himself in being better than most other people in most things that count for someone who will be the manager of the world’s largest economy, the general of the globe’s deadliest military, and the curator of the social life, education, innovation, technology and culture of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever produced. Having confidence in the New York tycoon’s ability to do this task, and sensitive to a country disenchanted by ineffective politics and a Pennsylvania Avenue that seems radically disconnected from Main Street, Republicans chose The Donald as their Trump Card.

See what I did there?

It’s pretty clever, even if it hasn’t been said out loud all that often. I suspect that Mr. Trump knew the connection. After all, he is highly educated at an Ivy League school and considers himself a supreme wordsmith.

As a verbal elite, Donald Trump no doubt played “Cognates” and other word-nerd games with his dad when their airplane’s 8-track stopped working.

The Trump pun is fairly obvious, and the Donald expects to triumph in the upcoming election and then trumpet his win throughout the world. But there is an essential problem with Trump’s branding: What happens if the Winner begins to lose? What happens if you pull out your Trump Card at the wrong time or in the wrong game? Mr. Trump has cast himself to his conservative base and to dissatisfied Americans as a winner, and has mocked many who disagree with him as losers. He is a winner at business (often enough in high-risk ventures), he can win political support (evident by his performance in the primaries and attendance at rallies), and he lands on the upside in his relationship with women (if we are to believe his “locker room talk”–though, to be fair, most of us don’t view women as things to be conquered in the way he does).

about_body_img_1He thinks of himself as a perennial winner, but what if Trump isn’t triumphing? What if he can’t trump others? Despite his ability to enthrall a crowd, leverage the markets, and take advantage of women, he is slumping in the polls. 3 weeks is a long time in politics, but all the polls have Trump at a poor showing, near the floor of 40% Republican support. It is still winnable, but he isn’t winning.

So, what happens when the shimmer of the Trump Card/Winner brand starts to wear off? Apparently, we turn to conspiracy.

trump-speakingTrump claimed in April and August the election was rigged, though he has committed to accepting the outcome of the election. Now he has turned to a new series of allegations, including the fact that his opponent is using drugs to get ready for debates–debates he really won, despite the polls–and that the media is conspiring to have Hillary Clinton elected, including FoxNews, the only leading news network clearly open to his campaign. Despite his clear intelligence, Trump never connects the fact that he calls one of Fox’s star commentators a “bimbo” to his own downfall.

It never occurs to Trump to look to himself when things are going badly. Instead, Trump connects left-leaning media with election corruption. I have no doubt the media have a liberal bias, but there is more going on. In this election, polls show that if you are in the media you are suffering. And despite all of the past Rupublican concerns about media and its bias, no other Presidential candidate confused that severely flawed social engine with actual election rigging. I mean, he’s saying stuff that makes experienced conservative leaders blush–people who have worked in systems of power for years.

Now Trump has taken it to an entirely new level. Most recently in West Palm Beach, Trump has claimed to self-sacrificially “take all of the slings and arrows” on behalf of the people and on behalf of the movement so “we can have our country back.” He assures Americans he is suffering all this for the people, not for himself. And although he claims that “many political experts warned me that this campaign would be a journey to hell,” they are wrong. Instead, in true messianic form, he promises us that, “it will be a journey to heaven.” It is quite a promised land speech, though, to be fair, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t have to defend himself against nine unwanted sexual assault allegations in a single week. Oh, and King died for his people, like the Christ he followed.

trump_china_arrowThis peculiar approach and the new campaign direction put me in mind of another interesting word connection to “Trump.” Remember the new word I found the other day? I think that “trumpery” might help us understand this circus of an election and this candidate’s unprecedented approach.

I was reading C.S. Lewis’ recently published unfinished autobiography from late 1930 or early 1931 (edited by Andrew Lazo*). He used the phrase “trump card,” but he also wrote this phrase: “It made all my recent excursions into magic and eroticism seem like trumpery” (“Early Prose Joy,” 22). Though I haven’t seen the word before, the meaning of “trumpery” in context means “illusory” or “false.” A quick trip over to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)–a centuries old database of words, which I’m sure Donald Trump consults regularly–confirms the definition. Taken from the 14th-century French tromperie, which itself came from the French verb tromper, “to deceive,” its origin is ultimately unknown. In English, though, it has a few meanings:

  1. Deceit, fraud, imposture, trickery
  2. “Something of less value than it seems,” rubbish
  3. Idle or superstitious
  4. Showy but unsubstantial
  5. In horticulture, referring to weeds or refuse that hinder the growth of valuable plants
  6. Applied to a person as trash (giving us the word “strumpet”)
  7. As an adjective, to refer to something of little or no value; trifling, paltry, insignificant; worthless, rubbishy, trashy

First, I love the English language, especially that we can have a word cluster that means both winner and loser.

Second, almost every part of this OED entry gives us another possibility for looking at the “Trump brand.” While Trump may triumph, these other words seem remarkably precise: deceit, trickery, rubbish, superstitious, showy-but insubstantial, and weed-hindered. I think we have to be careful about our words, though. Despite every discussion Donald Trump had with Howard Stern, I wouldn’t go as far as calling the candidate a strumpet. After all, we wouldn’t want to descend into locker room talk.

trump-mocks-disabled-journalist*for this recently published draft, see C.S. Lewis, ‘”Early Prose Joy”: C.S. Lewis’s Early Draft of an Autobiographical Manuscript”‘ in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center (2013). It is edited by Andrew Lazo, with intros in both #30 and #31 of VII.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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29 Responses to Word of the Day: “Trumpery”

  1. I hate to point this out, but Screwtape’s colleague was Slumtrimpet …. no trumps there.
    I always wondered where in the world Lewis came up with those names. Slumptrimpet, Slubgob, Glubose …. such odd, and definitely diabolical-sounding, names!


    • I love the diabolical names. I have assigned students a “Screwtape” letter before and love the demon names they come up with.
      I am going to give an awful response that sounds like a set up, but it’s not. I honestly forgot that Screwtape was “Slumtrimpet.” Believe it or not, in an earlier draft, it is Slimptrumpet. That sounds horribly pretentious (oh didn’t you see the unpublished manuscript nobody outside of New York has read?)! I’m not sure if I should change it or keep it open as a trap and self-critique!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, really? That’s interesting! I wonder why Lewis changed it from the earlier draft. (Though I must admit, I think I like Slumtrimpet better.)

        I’d leave it. Because then people can see the interesting way Lewis’s works evolved. (And maybe even catch the ironic typo in my original comment. LOL!)


        • I don’t know what made the change, except that “slumtrimpet” has no connection to Donald Trump at all, and Lewis probably didn’t want to get caught up in the 2016 election.
          On that, have you seen the fake C.S. Lewis meme going around about Screwtape and political obsession? Maybe I should post that as a Feature Friday piece.


      • robstroud says:

        If the manuscript is from New York… I would be suspicious. After all, if this election season is showing us anything, it’s that not everything that comes from New York is trustworthy…


  2. paulfford says:

    Brenton, you mention: “I was reading C.S. Lewis’ recently published unfinished autobiography from late 1930 or early 1931 (edited by Andrew Lazo).” Can you post the bibliographical information about this book? I didn’t know of this.


  3. wanderwolf says:

    Neat look at my favorite (not) candidate ever. 🙂
    Oh, and I’m sure Trump played Cognates and number games with his dad all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ONRPEI.CA says:

    Great writing & an excellent Trump primer Brenton! The part about his campaign being “The Road to Heaven” is hilarious, although it may be heavenly for comedians looking for an endless resource for new material, many Americans may beg to differ.


  5. nancyleek says:

    Don’t leave out the closing couplet of Lewis’s sonnet The Apologist’s Evening Prayer:
    Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
    Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.


  6. L.A. Smith says:

    Hah. Careful, Brenton, your sarcasm is showing 🙂 …..well, we have to laugh, or we will cry. Thankfully only a couple more weeks of this madness until the election. But then we will have to endure months and months of finger-pointing and conspiracy theories about the rigged election (if Donald loses). Sigh. It’s all such a mess.
    Loved this exploration of all things “trump”, though. Talk about the shaping of a man to his name. God does have a sense of humour, to be sure….


    • Yes, this is a bit sardonic. I quite love conspiracy theories, actually. Somehow I think I won’t find this one so interesting.
      I hope God has a sense of humour. I have 40 years of anecdotal evidence he does. (note: stole that from Easy A)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hannah says:

        Your exploration “of all things trump” is great, but I find his “deceit, fraud, trickery” just too awful to see any humour in it, just too many conspiracy theories – e.g. to start and egg on that weird discussion about Obama’s birth place, just to get started on the political landscape towards the White House and linking the father of Ted Cruz to Lee Harvey Oswald (and JFK’s assassin) just because they are on a photo together …


        • I know, Hannah, there is a lot to stomach. I am not someone who fits well on the political division of left and right, but someone who wants to inform culture behind that conversation. I’m also not American. Had I thought that America would take Trump seriously, I probably wouldn’t have written this post. My point’s not inform an American campaign but to challenge Christians to use the critical thinking they apply to the culture around them in their political choices.
          And even when they do, they may still be in crisis.


          • Hannah says:

            Yes, I know. I just couldn’t resist posting that remark though, as I really don’t think that God is shaping this man to his name. And I just can’t find much to laugh about in all of this mess, maybe just that clip where Trump is telling himself over and over again that he should remain calm and focused, in front of a huge crowd, while applying for one of the world’s top jobs. Just image doing that during an ordinary job interview …


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