Spelling’s Don For

A president, a peach and the threat to our language

Lee Dickinson Word Wise copywriting

By Lee Dickinson

Spelling looks doomed after the most powerful man in the world typed its death warrant.

For a man who relied on writing to spread the word during his term, former US President Donald Trump posted tweets that ignored its rules. Now, with a new presidential era, what’s his legacy to our language?

The most striking is a history of spelling errors that continued until his tenure’s end. In the final weeks, for example, the coronavirus was spelt “Caronavirus” and the Nobel Prize the “Noble”. He’d also confused it with the Pulitzer Prize. There were many more language-based mistakes and, according to Factba.se, 188 misspellings were tweeted from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle during his first three years in office alone.

Being the butt of jokes became a habit for a leader fond of slapping good grammar’s backside. Any thought he was used to the ribbing vanished amid a furious backlash to critics. Laugh it off? Er, no, according to leaks from his own side.

As the reaction to his gaffes made him so angry, the obvious answer was to have his words checked. You’d think there would have been plenty who could have helped in the whole of the White House? Or, somewhere in its learned corridors, a dictionary?

Failing something like that, there would always be more blunders. Mr Trump’s track record made that certain through a history of howlers:

    • “The possibility of lasting peach” – before visiting Israel, his language got a bit fruity
    • “unpresidented act” – such spelling from a president is unprecedented
    • “No challenge is to great” – (my italics) except the challenge of finding that dictionary?
    • “Covfefe” – the twittersphere debated what this meant before it was removed after 20 minutes
    • “honered to serve you” – glad you’re honoured, Mr Trump. Or, as America prefers, ‘honored’
    • “John Huntsman to be Ambassador” – that’s Jon Huntsman
    • “councel” – he clearly struggles with ‘counsel’
    • “Thr coverage … gas been so false and angry” – hot air, no doubt, and two more errors
    • “tapp my phones” – you should never have a p p on the phone
    • “attaker” – ‘attacker’ was misspelt 20 times in one document
    • “Teresa May” – Theresa, even
    • “here by” and “hearby” – two attempts at this one, both getting ‘hereby’ wrong, and sandwiching a tweet about improving education.

Word Matters, the blog, is here.

Do we expect better from our leaders? Anyone can slip up, but so many mistakes showed language disdain that undermined a man who was charged with overseeing a superpower’s education system. A pupil gets help, but Mr Trump went it alone and erred.

It was a strange choice he’d never have made in a sphere like the law, where he’s surrounded by a phalanx of sharp suits. Language deserves at least as much respect as the law which relies on its precision, but the president seemed to hurl words through the same revolving door used to eject his White House staff.

Understandable, perhaps, given social media’s illusion of transience. Watch the news most days, though, and see the human cost of people spat out by its permanence. Mr Trump was never scribbling on an ether-based blackboard; he was carving a Mount Rushmore-type history.

It’s difficult to believe he here by/hearby occupied the same office as the man who oversaw the wording of the Bill of Rights, and harder still to reconcile his careless use of words with Pilgrim Fathers who lived by them. They knew their value and treasured them.

Millions of ‘likes’ for the former president’s error-strewn writing suggests a dimming respect for those values.

People aspire to be like presidents, and taking a lead from such carelessness is dangerous. That’s the former president’s legacy, along with a failure to realise the need to be almost as careful at his keyboard as with that big red button which could blow us all to everlasting peach.

Lee Dickinson is an advanced professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP, formerly SfEP). He’s a former journalist who now works as a copywriter and editor. You can contact him here, at CIEP, by email via editor@bookediting.co.uk or through the platforms below.

Copyright © 2020, Lee Dickinson, Word Wise Web Ltd. All rights reserved.