When I played football (poorly, to be sure) many years ago, the game exacted a 15-yard penalty for“piling on”— that is, for leaping on the heap forming over a player already on the ground. Apparently that transgression is now covered under the catch-all words “unnecessary roughness,” because I haven’t heard the specific foul cited for many years now.
I prefer “piling on.” Not just for its specificity, but it also soothes any guilt I might feel at this, my piling on Gauleiter Trump along with the many other fault-finders. Yes, I realize you will accuse me of missing the forest for the trees...or fixating on one insignificant sixth magnitude star out of the entire Milky Way array.
Point well taken. Hasn’t he’s been branded with virtually every neurosis and psychosis and mental shortcoming known to man by those more learned than I? What could I possibly add? Well, I do have a modest past in academia, and I feel professionally obliged to protect our beloved language from every very terrible, horrible, disaster of a Trumpian trampling. And I must defend our noble tongue from a self-proclaimed genius no less.
Genius? Who says? Vladimir Putin, according to Trump.
At issue is the Russian word “yarki,” used by the shrewd ex-KGB agent in his wooing of our vain sociopath. The word can be translated as “very bright,” but is more commonly rendered by western scholars to “colorful.” When recently asked for clarification of what he meant when he first used the word, the wily Putin chose “flamboyant.”
Trump will have none of this pointy-headed hairsplitting. Once a genius, always a genius. And the good news must be spread. Tellingly, the day after Trump bragged at the first presidential debate about his brilliance in avoiding paying taxes, his top two lickspittle knaves, Chris (“Rosenkrantz”) Christie and Rudy(“Guildenstern”) Giuliani, appeared separately on the tube trying to convince the world that only a “genius” (parroting their master’s word choice, under orders no doubt) could come up with such a scheme. Really? Hasn’t many a common tax cheat done the same thing many times over?
But I digress from the subject of Trump and Language. Let me submit that Trump communicates by Twitter because its word limitations fall nicely in line with his working vocabulary. More than a few linguists have applied their scientific tests to Trump’s tweets and addresses and found a third-grade level vocabulary in use and a high-fifth-grader’s command of grammar; that’s somewhat below the levels of your garden variety genius, but good enough, I guess, for a six-year-old bully vying to remain king of the sandbox.
My own year-long analysis of Trump’s diction confirms these studies. You will find among the limited and recurring words disgusting, terrible, horrible, believe me, rigged, crooked, lying, by the way, huge, great, tremendous, bad, good, very, very very. Not only are they few in number, there are often vague in meaning. As a former teacher of writing and editing, I feel professionally obligated to tell The Donald there are remedies. Vocabulary building would be priority one, Donald. And that’s best done the old fashioned way—reading. That means “reading up,” challenging your mind (something by Frederich Nietzsche or Martin Heidegger might have special appeal), not escape reading like Playboy. That may mean getting help with your ADHD, but it’s worth the investment, believe me Don.
Unfortunately, limited vocabularies invite a related fault: word repetition—a sure sign of an amateur at work. And when those words are “terrible," "horrible," "disaster,” and the like, the reader concludes that the writer flushed his morning lithium tablet.
Then there’s the vagueness problem. You solve that with the words you employ. Choose concrete words over abstract words, nouns over adjectives, short words over long, words with Anglo-Saxon roots over those with Latinate origins. And it’s no crime to have a model, by the way...someone you admire, feel comfortable with, providing he or she has a definable writing style. I recently heard you on the telly voice your affinity for Ernest Hemingway. A worthy model — especially for you.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I believe I can make a writer of you yet. But it won’t be easy and I don’t come cheap. Giving you my standard politician’s discount, we could seal the deal in the mid six figures within the month. Payment in advance, of course.
Good. A deal, then. What I want you to do is spend the next four years immersing yourself in Hemingway’s oeuvre, then bring me a 10,000-word essay on what you’ve learned from Papa. Then I can spot where more work needs to be done...all contingent of course on my being back from Cap Ferrat.