If President Donald J. Trump was a student in my 10th grade English class, here is how I would evaluate his use of the English language as observed in last week’s press conference.
One major characteristic of Trump’s speaking is the repetition of words and phrases, often within the same sentence, revealing a limited vocabulary.
Tony Schwartz, co-author of Trump: The Art of the Deal, told MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid that Trump has a “200-word vocabulary.”
That is why in his 77-minute presser he repeated words so frequently: really (14), great (19), very (87).
An easy way to impress people, I tell my students, is by using a varied vocabulary when speaking with prospective employers. It also retains an audience’s attention when the speaker uses different words; using the same words over and over again, well, the message gets lost.
See if you can figure out what Trump was trying to say:
- “It’s very important to me. I’ve been talking about that for a long time. It’s very, very important to me.”
- “We’re looking at them very, very, very serious.”
- “Very, very strongly. Very, very strongly.”
Avoid saying “honestly,” “I’ll be honest” or “can I be honest with you” because more likely than not you’re not being truthful.
Just like declaring yourself to be 100 percent opposite of who you really are.
“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person.”
I teach my students to avoid the phrase “I think” because it diminishes the persuasiveness of one’s opinion, coming across as if only the speaker believes that way. Yet Trump repeated it 42 times in the press conference.
In fact, he used the pronoun “I” 389 times. It goes without much analysis why he would refer to himself so often.
I instruct my students to avoid hysterical language; people are more likely to consider your opinions when spoken more judiciously.
Trump, however, washes himself in hyperbole, depicting the world as a “mess” or “disaster” or in “chaos” or “turmoil” where things are “horrible,” “terrible,” “horrendous,” or “catastrophic.”
When discussing people who please him, Trump uses “wonderful,” “tremendous,” “fantastic,” “fabulous,” “incredible,” the types of adjectives children would more often use than a 70-year-old man.
And look at the repetitive wording when talking about his daughter—“Ivanka who is a fabulous person and a fabulous, fabulous woman”—and his wife Melania who feels “very, very strongly, she’s a very, very strong advocate.”
Carnegie Mellon studied the vocabulary of presidents and concluded that Trump’s language is at a fifth-grade level.
“I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”
The same could be said of the way Trump talks.
Dr. Justin Frank, a psychoanalyst at George Washington University Medical Center who is writing a book called “Trump on the Couch,” told me that “not reading or not being able to read often has a lasting limiting effect” on one’s vocabulary development. It’s widely known that Trump watches TV and does not read books—not a promising combination for thinking deeply about issues affecting the nation.
If Trump’s parents visited me at Open House this week, how would I diplomatically broach his shortcomings as an English student? Most likely do what any politician does and redirect my response to a different subject: have Donald join my journalism class to learn about real news.