President Donald Trump’s distinctive style of rhetoric has been the subject of scrutiny since the moment he launched his presidential campaign.
Trump’s words provoke a range of emotions, from pride to anger and fear. But in many cases, the prevailing response is simply confusion.
Here are some of the most head-scratching words and phrases Trump has used since 2015.
- Mark Wallheiser/Getty Imges
Perhaps the most distinctive of all of Trump’s turns of phrase is “big-league.”
He makes frequent use of the phrase in his improvised speeches at rallies, and for more than a year, prompted hysteria on social media over whether he was actually saying “bigly.”
As linguist Ben Zimmer noted last year, “big league” is usually used as an adjective, so it was a bit strange to hear Trump use it as an adverb, like when he said he would “cut taxes big-league.”
Trump put the confusion to bed in 2016 when he confirmed he was indeed saying “big-league.”
- Thomson Reuters
Among all the words Trump has brought into the English lexicon, it’s hard to find one more bizarre than “covfefe.”
It first appeared in a late-night tweet Trump posted in May that read simply, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”
Most observers assumed the word was a typo and that the tweet would be taken down, but it inexplicably stayed up until 6 a.m. the next day, giving online jokesters endless opportunities to speculate about its meaning.
Seemingly clued into the joke, Trump tweeted the next morning, “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!”
Press secretary Sean Spicer added to the confusion when a reporter asked him about the tweet, saying with a straight face, “I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”
Trump raised some more eyebrows in 2016 when he made repeated references to “the cyber” at a presidential debate.
Prompted by moderator Lester Holt to discuss cyberwarfare and foreign hacking, Trump gave an extended riff that included the following gems:
“As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said.”
“So we had to get very, very tough on cyber and cyberwarfare.”
“The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough.”
“We have so many things that we have to do better, Lester. And certainly cyber is one of them.”
His perplexing use of the term cyber led The New York Daily News to call the English language “the true loser of the presidential debate.”
‘The blacks,’ ‘the gays,’ ‘the Muslims’
Trump aroused plenty of anger during the campaign when he frequently referred to certain minority groups as “the blacks,” “the gays,” “the Muslims,” and “the Hispanics.”
The little word “the” seemed to make all the difference, drawing the scorn of voters around the country. Many claimed it made him sound prejudiced to the groups he was talking about.
As linguist Eric Acton told Business Insider last year, using the word “the” in front of the name of a group tends allows people to distance themselves from the group in question while highlighting their differences.
“There’s this distancing effect, like they’re over there,” Acton told Business Insider. “They’re signaling they’re not part of it.”
‘My military,’ ‘my generals’
- Carlos Barria/Reuters
Since taking office in January, Trump has rankled members of the military by referring to them as “my military” and “my generals.”
The most recent flap came in October, when Trump told reporters that when it came to the deadly military mission in Niger, “my generals and my military, they have decision-making ability.”
Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary and director of the CIA, said he found the phrasing offensive for suggesting a misguided sense of ownership over the armed forces.
“When it comes to the military, the military belongs to the country,” he said in April. “Our defense system belongs to the country. And it’s not the president’s military, it’s the military of the United States of America.”
In September, at an event with African leaders, Trump twice referred to the fictitious nation of “Nambia.”
Observers assumed he was combining the names of two real African countries, Zambia and Namibia. The White House later clarified Trump was talking about Namibia.
The verbal gaffe blew up on social media and led to another round of mocking for the president.
- REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Trump left an audience of Christian students confused in January 2016 when he cited a Bible book he described as “Two Corinthians.”
Speaking at the evangelical Liberty University, Trump drew a mix of laughter and face-palms when he said, “Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame.”
The title of the book he was referring to is pronounced “Second Corinthians.”
One of the most memorable sound bites from the third presidential debate came when Trump alluded to “bad hombres” coming to the US from Mexico.
“We have to keep the drugs out of our country,” Trump said, adding that he would aim to secure the border. “We have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.”
The unusual turn of phrase whipped Twitter users into a frenzy, and some of the most amusing reactions came from people who were were confused by the pronunciation and spelling of the word.
As Merriam-Webster dictionary noted in a blog post, two of the most looked-up words that night were “ombre” – a card game that was popular in 17th-century Europe – and “ombré” – having colors or tones that shade into each other.