Wed, Jul

Humpty Trumpty


SEMANTICS, SCHEMANTICS-“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master-that’s all.’”

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll. 


It does not take a serious student of the English language to recognize the similarity between the discussion that Alice and Humpty Dumpty had about the meaning of words used by Humpty Dumpty, to recognize that as ill-educated and ill-read as Humpty Trumpty obviously is, in all probability someone read Through the Looking Glass to him when he was a child, and the idea of using words to mean what he wanted them to mean, rather than what they are generally accepted to mean, appealed to him has become an effective means of communicating with many of his supporters. It has also made life easy for him because it is not necessary for him to clutter up his mind with the actual meaning of words, since he, like Humpty Dumpty, is their master. Examples abound, but a few suffice to make the point. 

One of DJT’s favorite uses of words is to pick a word to describe a situation that has no relevance to the situation. Notwithstanding its irrelevance, he broadcasts it widely by tweet, so those not sophisticated conclude that it means what DJT would have it mean, rather than what it would mean if appropriately used. If it is a big word, it gets additional weight and redounds to the credit of DJT. An example of this was given following James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. That testimony neither supporters of DJT, nor his critics, would describe as revealing DJT in a favorable light. Nonetheless, at its conclusion, DJT tweeted: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker.” Whatever one thinks of Mr. Comey’s testimony, no one knowledgeable in the use of language would use the word “vindicate,” to describe its effect on DJT or his reputation. 

Another use of the Humpty Trumpty rule is to take a word out of a sentence used by a third party, and put it in a completely new sentence that has no relevance to the sentence from which it came and attribute the new sentence to the author of the original sentence. That occurred with something the Mayor of London said following the terrorist attack in London on June 2, 2017. Acknowledging the distress of the community, and wanting to reassure those in London that they would be safe, the mayor said that there would be a heavy police presence in the days ahead in London to protect the public, and that there was: “No need to be alarmed” because of their presence. DJT took the word “alarmed” from the mayor’s statement and put it in a tweet attacking the author of the statement, tweeting: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed.’” 

Another application of the Humpty Trumpty rule is to take a word and apply it to a situation, simply because it feels good to say; but even if taken in the context in which it is placed by DJT, it is meaningless. When DJT is confronted with a news story of which he disapproves, he describes it as a “fake” news story, even though the word “fake” has no commonly accepted use that would make it meaningful in the situation being described, nor does any definition found in a dictionary suggest that that usage is correct. 

When the media discovers things that DJT had hoped to keep secret, he has a ready response. He refers to the “Lying Media” even though there is nothing in a story that comports with the accepted definition of “lying.” When the New York Times comes up with a story that displeases Humpty Trumpty, he uses the word “failing” to describe the newspaper even though that paper’s circulation has increased greatly since DJT was elected, and by no accepted definition of the word, could “failing” properly be applied to describe the New York Times

The foregoing are just a few of hundreds of examples of the misuse of the language by DJT. It makes us wish we could follow in Alice’s footsteps after her conversation with Humpty Dumpty drew to a close: “Alice waited a minute to see if he [Humpty Dumpty] would speak again, but as he never opened his eyes or took any further notice of her, she said ‘Good-bye!’ once more, and, getting no answer to this, she quietly walked away: but she couldn’t help saying to herself as she went, ‘Of all the unsatisfactory —’ (she repeated this aloud, as it was a great comfort to have such a long word to say) ‘of all the unsatisfactory people I ever met —’ She never finished the sentence, for at this moment a heavy crash shook the forest from end to end.” Humpty Dumpty had fallen from the wall. 

We should be so lucky.



(Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at [email protected]. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.comThis piece was first posted on CommonDreams.org.) [This piece was first posted on CommonDreams.org.] Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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