- REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
- Twitter users mocked Trump for shortening the word microphone to “mike” in a Sunday-night tweet.
- They suggested Trump was spelling the word incorrectly, as he has done with other words in the past.
- But the argument over whether to say “mike” or mic” has a surprisingly rich linguistic history, suggesting the president’s spelling was perfectly fine.
Language pedants mocked President Donald Trump for using an unconventional word in a tweet Sunday night.
The tweet concerned the frequent White House target Jeff Flake, an Arizona senator who, in Trump’s estimation, “was caught (purposely) on ‘mike’ saying bad things about your favorite President.”
Social-media users quickly latched onto Trump’s spelling of the word “mike” as a shortened form of “microphone.” And in most cases, they suggested it was another piece of evidence in Trump’s shaky relationship with the English language.
It really bothers me that Donald Trump says mike when he means mic…. like you know the word is MICROPHONE right
— Emily (@emmyleelee) November 20, 2017
Trump doesn't realize that "mike" is a person, but mic is a shortened version of microphone.
— Kalsarikannit (@samgillmer) November 20, 2017
???? “Your favorite president?!” (Looking around) who the hell are you talking to dictator Trump? Sure isn’t me. Btw Mike is a man’s name, mic is short for microphone. If you’re going to live here, learn the language. ????
— Lisa Richardson (@proqueen80) November 19, 2017
Even The Independent found Trump’s spelling newsworthy enough to include in the headline of an article about the tweet.
There’s a problem with everyone’s nitpicking
It’s true that “mic” is the more popular way to shorten the word microphone. A quick Google comparison shows terms like “open mic,” “rock the mic,” and “mic drop” dwarf their counterparts in online searches.
But there’s a huge problem with everyone’s criticism of Trump’s spelling – it wasn’t wrong. In fact, the “mike” versus “mic” debate has a rich history that has provoked fiery responses on both sides.
And there is nearly a century of linguistic history on Trump’s side on this one.
As it turns out, “mike” predates “mic” by several decades: The first known use of “mike” to refer to a microphone was in 1924, according to Merriam-Webster, while it wasn’t until 1961 that “mic” first appeared.
The argument for “mike” picks up even more steam when you compare it to other English words.
At first glance, “mic” seems as if it would be pronounced “mick” and rhyme with other “-ic” words like tic, sic, pic, and Bic, as the musician Samuel Bayer wrote in a surprisingly lengthy blog post about the subject.
On top of that, it’s normal in English to tweak the spelling of a shortened word to aid in its pronunciation. For example, as Beyer noted, we write “fridge” instead of “frig,” “nuke” instead of “nuc,” and “biz” instead of “bus,” to name a few. In that respect, “mic” actually seems to be breaking the typical spelling conventions rather than adhering to them.
And even more problems arise when you try to use the word as a verb. Is a singer miced up or micced up? How about mic’d up? Are the engineers micing or miccing? “Miked” and “miking” offer easy, confusion-free alternatives.
For that reason, the Associated Press said it would continue to suggest using “mike” as a verb in 2010, even as it changed its official preference for the noun to “mic.”
Still, it’s tough to change people’s habits, and there is no question that “mic” is more widely used. The popularity of the newer spelling has escalated since it first appeared, especially among people in the recording industry, who often use equipment marked with the abbreviation “Mic.”
“It makes sense, then, that the early rappers of the South Bronx, intimately familiar with the sound systems that powered their performances, would take to the mic spelling,” the linguist Ben Zimmer wrote for The New York Times in 2010.
Trump may have gotten a healthy dose of criticism for his Sunday-evening tweet, but it’s important to note that there was nothing incorrect about his spelling, despite what online pedants might say.