The counter-productive grammar in Trump's tweets

- 4 mins

So someone has written a book about Trump. Predictably, he doesn't like what's in it. Also predictably, what's in it are details of how Trump is unpredictable, childlike, impulsive, unstable, stupid, illiterate, and a whole lot of other negative attributes that Trump would naturally want to dispute.

The thing that this article is about is a very specific strange bit of grammar in one of the set of three tweets that Trump posted in initial response to the book. Here is that tweet:

….Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star..…

– Donald J. Trump‏ (@realDonaldTrump) 4:27 AM - 6 Jan 2018

The bit I want to focus on, the bit the puzzles me the most, is the ", like," in that sentence. Specifically the “like” and the punctuation that surrounds it. Why is it there? It makes very little sense to use language typically associated with younger people and with casual speech in a message in which you're trying to indicate how intelligent you are. I want to have a deeper look at the potential workflow that results in Trump’s tweets sounding like they come from a transcription of a conversation that Kim Kardashian might have with her best friend.

Let's look at how a normal person would type a tweet. If you're a bit fast and loose with capitalisation and punctuation, or in a hurry, you might skip all the punctuation and miss a few capitals. You certainly wouldn't have five correctly-placed commas in a single tweet and everything capitalised correctly. If you're a stickler for correct grammar, and particularly if you’re posting something about how intelligent you are, you would not take the extra time to add a counter-productive “like” in the middle of a sentence. Automatic spelling and grammar correction might explain it, although I played with “Grammarly” and it didn’t know what to do with that “like” either. I'm confident that the person that came up with these thoughts is not the person that typed them in.

So that leaves dictation. My first draft of this article was primarily dictated to my computer using Dragon Naturally Speaking (this is not a paid ad). With it I can rapidly transcribe long, sometimes rambling, sentences ideal for these sorts of articles. I tend to write like I speak, but I tend to speak like people write. The thing is, in order to exactly transcribe that first sentence with what could be considered to be the industry standard dictation software, I would literally have to say to my computer:

“Actually comma throughout my life comma my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being comma like comma really smart full stop”

Am I really going to say "comma like comma" in the middle of a sentence where I'm talking about how smart I'm supposed to be? I would say the answer is no.

So now we have ruled out Trump typing this himself and Trump using some sort of dictation software directly. The next most likely workflow for the creation of tweets by the President of the United States, including those where he defends his intellect, is that he is dictating them to a person for transcription and posting. We now need to unpack that.

The reason why that isn't just the end of everything, mystery solved, is that the "like" is still in there. It is perfectly reasonable to believe that while saying what he wanted he put the word “like” in it. When I was first discussing this with my wife, I put an unnecessary “like” into more than one sentence. However, it is incredibly unusual for somebody transcribing documents to put those little language quirks into the result. I have supported secretaries who do transcription, I know people who offer outsourced transcription services professionally. That “like” should not be there. So why is it there?

Two possible answers spring to mind. Either the transcriber is terrified of Trump and has been told to do exactly what he says, or the transcriber specifically took the opportunity to disingenuously include something that Trump probably didn't want despite previously giving instructions to transcribe exactly what he says. Either way, you might imagine a conversation that goes something along the lines of:

Trump: Why did you put the like in there?
Transcriber: You told me to post exactly what you say.
Trump: You know I didn’t mean that. You’re fired, get out.

Being a Trump transcriber would be a pretty horrible job. Ignoring that the leader of the free world may need someone to type in his tweets for him, you would surely spend your whole time waiting for him to regret something he instructed you to do before getting rid of you.

Meanwhile, we’re all expected to believe that Trump is, like, really smart. Totally.

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson

May contain traces of nuts

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