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Donald Trump is fighting with the dictionary again

Photo: Jim Watson/Getty

The dictionary and Donald Trump. Together they represent the bedrocks of our modern communication; without them, we would literally have nothing to say to each other, besides a bunch of primal grunts about how much we’re enjoying life. And yet, somehow the two cannot seem to get along. Trump and his associates misuse or misspell a word, and suddenly Merriam-Webster is right there, attempting to diminish their authority by pedantically insisting that words are spelled a certain way and mean things. It’s a feud that shows no signs of stopping, unless Trump adopts a policy of limiting his social media usage to just those messages that are screened by staff members for potential errors, and given the weight and consideration expected of an official missive from the President of the United States, or Rupert Murdoch finally buys the dictionary, whichever happens first. Until then, we have to watch as our two most prolific sources of words spar online—this time over whether Trump may or may not have invented the phrase “priming the pump.”

Trump made the claim in a recent interview with The Economist, in which he discussed how his tax plan will increase the deficit, but how this is okay because it’s merely “priming the pump.” It’s an eloquent turn of phrase—pithy, evocative, beautiful in its earthy simplicity. All the things you naturally associate with Donald Trump, because he came up with it:

ECONOMIST: Beyond that, it’s okay if the tax plan increases the deficit?

TRUMP: It is okay, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll … you understand the expression “prime the pump”?


TRUMP: We have to prime the pump.

ECONOMIST: It’s very Keynesian.

TRUMP: We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?

ECONOMIST: Priming the pump?

TRUMP: Yeah, have you heard it?


TRUMP: Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just … I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.


Unfortunately, the George Soros-funded dictionary was right there to cry, in its usual butthurt way, that “prime the pump” has existed as a phrase since “the early 19th century,” and has been used specifically to “refer to government investment expenditures since at least 1933.” A nasty, nasty lexicographical product, that one.

In an attempt to foster peace between these two bitter rivals, we’re left to consider whether Trump’s claim was born of some sort of unfathomable narcissism that completely disregards all historical evidence and conventional wisdom in favor of a reckless faith in his own superiority, no matter how demonstrably ludicrous it is, or that maybe he was just joking.

The Washington Post, for one, is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, pointing out that Trump has used “prime the pump” at least a few times before, suggesting this exchange might have been the sort of winking, deadpan humor where you just repeat an obvious lie a few times using the same words, each iteration funnier than the last. But others remain skeptical, suspecting that Donald Trump might enjoy taking things other people have done and just stamping his name on them.


Regardless, it seems the war between the dictionary and Donald Trump continues, a conflagration that, at the very least, we can’t all die in.

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