"Like a bitch"?

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The reaction to the video of Donald Trump's 2005 discussion with Billy Bush has focused primarily on its rape-culture aspects, including passages like this one:

Trump: I got to use some tictacs just in case I start kissing her
_______you know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful-
_______I just start kissing them

_______it's like a magnet just kiss
_______I don't even wait
_______and when you're a star they let you do it
_______you can do anything
Bush: whatever you want
Trump: grab em by the pussy
Bush: {laughs}
Trump: I can do anything

But I want to focus on one of Trump's phrases that's gotten less attention:

Trump: I moved on her like a bitch

When I first heard that, I thought Trump was using "'like a bitch" as a general-purpose intensifier applied to his own actions. But then I realized that canine similes are one of his favorite ways of dehumanizing others, and so he must have meant this one to apply to Nancy O'Dell, the woman that he "moved on" in this particular case.

For a long meditation on Trump's relationship to dogs, see Keith Olberman, "Why is Trump Such A Weirdo About Dogs?", GQ 10/3/2016 (list of Trump's "like a dog" tweets starts at 1:10):

For a shorter (and earlier) one, see Nick Wing, "Donald Trump Clearly Doesn't Understand How Dogs Work" ("The Donald’s simile game is weak 'like a dog.'"), The Huffington Post 2/9/2016.

I'm not the only one who found "like a bitch" initially puzzling:

The "moved on her" part is clear, right? And to understand "like a bitch", start by translating it "as if she were a female dog".

Past that point, was Trump thinking of himself as a male dog? Or did he mean to evoke bestiality as well as sexual assault? I'm guessing that he hadn't really thought the metaphor through to that point, and most of the rest of us will be happy to leave it vague as well.


  1. Roscoe said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 11:36 am

    Time flies like a bitch. Fruit flies like a banana.

  2. DEJ said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 11:42 am

    "When I first heard that, I thought Trump was using "'like a bitch" as a general-purpose intensifier applied to his own actions."

    Yeah I think so.

  3. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 11:47 am

    Has he ever used 'like a bitch' as a general intensifier before? Has anyone else done so?

  4. Robbie said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 11:59 am

    I've heard it as a general intensifier, but only to describe things that are being nasty to someone:

    "Broken leg? Aw, that hurts like a bitch."

    So, yeah, something that's bitchy can do things "like a bitch".

    I'm going to make a wild guess that Trump grabbed onto the phrase and used it more generally than it's normally used. Maybe confusing or conflating it with "like a boss"?

  5. Dick Margulis said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 12:02 pm

    I think it just means he tried to hump her from behind. I don't think anything he said in that tape was intended as a metaphor.

  6. Breffni said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 12:37 pm

    Surely by "move on her" he means "tried to get her to sleep with me", in the sense of a relatively prolonged campaign? Otherwise how do you make sense of "I moved on her very heavily in fact I took her out furniture shopping"?

  7. Chris Kern said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

    I think it has to be an intensifier; using "bitch" to literally refer to a female dog is something that you only see now among dog breeders and sometimes references to hunting dogs, and even then I think it's rarer than it used to be. Trump is old, but I don't think his background would give him that kind of expression.

  8. Leslie said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 1:30 pm

    I'm surprised other commenters don't think this is a parallel to/extension of his frequent use of "like a dog" as an insult. That was what I immediately thought of. But I wonder, has he previously used "like a dog" to describe a woman? (The Keith Olbermann video mentions "Kristin Stewart dumped Robert Pattinson like a dog," but I think in that case it refers to Pattinson?)

  9. Scott McClure said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 1:32 pm

    I found that line to puzzling too. I took Donald Trump to mean that he himself was acting 'like a bitch' in the sense that he acknowledged that he was violating some code between married men when he made the choice to 'move on' a married woman.

  10. Tim Martin said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 2:20 pm

    I watched the Olbermann video. I had no idea Trump uses "like a dog" that way, and so frequently. It makes me think that he just made a small adjustment to the phrase when he applied it to the woman referenced in this conversation. That makes more sense to me now.

  11. Neil said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

    Honestly, my first reaction was he was talking about his own vulnerability. There's a phrase that goes "don't be such a whiny bitch" that implies you're being a baby or you're weak. My impression was he was so infatuated with this married woman that he acted in a way he considered weak in order to curry favor. In other words, he was nice to her and not demeaning and dehumanizing to her, and that unusual behavior on his part surprised him.

  12. Saurs said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 5:04 pm

    What Neil wrote.
    "Like a bitch" anticipates his failure in "seducing" O'Dell. If you recall, his Playboy interview revealed that he thinks women, in addition to being avaricious whores who can be purchased, need to be treated "like shit," that they only succumb to displays of violent machismo. The furniture-buying was a sign of weakness, Trump is saying. He wasn't forceful enough.

  13. Brett said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 7:15 pm

    I thought this made perfect sense when I first read the transcript. Although I realize now that it seems ambiguously phrased, this seems like a normal turn of phrase to me. The meaning of "like a bitch" is definitely "as if she were a bitch" in this case, but I don't think "bitch" has any particularly canine of even bitchy implications. It just means a woman who he feels he has no reason to respect; it's a pretty standard meaning of the word.

  14. Graeme said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 7:43 pm

    Maybe he doesn't know either. He's ex temporising about his animalism.

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 8:03 pm

    Focusing just on the wording without trying to do long-distance psychoanalysis of the speaker, I tend to lean toward the "mere intensifier" reading, as the most parsimonious. From an Occam's Razor perspective, the other readings seem to me to require more numerous speculative moving parts and it's easier to think of other phrasings that would have conveyed them more clearly (although I admit that last point should only be given modest weight when dealing with spontaneous speech by someone like Trump).

    While, consistent with an earlier commenter, I think of the core/paradigm use of intensifying "like a bitch" as sentences like "I stubbed my toe and it hurts like a bitch," I also think for at least some AmEng users it has a broader scope and can cover a lot of different VERBED LIKE A BITCH or VERBED NOUN LIKE A BITCH situations. A reasonable parallel to Trump's usage that I googled up might be "Jeff Beck can play guitar like a bitch."* I think that pretty clearly means "play with a noteworthy degree of intensity/skill," rather than "play the way a bitch would stereotypically play" or "play as if the guitar itself were in some metaphorical sense a bitch." It's synonymous with "can play guitar like a motherfucker." I do not claim certainty that this is what Trump meant, but it seems plausible and imho the least convoluted explanation.

    *Alas, this seems to be someone else's possibly-invented example sentence to illustrate usage of the "like a bitch" idiom rather than an unselfconscious "in the wild" use, but at least I didn't make it up myself.

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 8:13 pm

    It seems like there ought to be some connection between the intensifying use of "like a bitch" and the all-purpose laudatory adjective bitchin' or bitchen, although as is usually the case etymologies of teen slang tend to be speculative and uncertain. I did however discover possibly the coolest prescriptivist-peeve site ever (I have no opinion as to whether it's a joke or serious …), devoted to insisting that the "bitchen" spelling is the Only Right Way and everyone else is Wrong Wrong Wrong. http://bitchen.com/bitchen/etymology.html

  17. Sybil said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    I'm kind of hoping this doesn't actually mean anything. Because, OMG, the alternative.

    Dogs are nice. Just sayin.

  18. Chris Waigl said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 12:27 am

    (Dogs do sweat — through their paw pads. Not, of course, their main method of regulating temperature.)

  19. AntC said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 12:29 am

    The thinking within Clinton’s campaign was to let Trump suffer the repercussions of being unendorsed en masse by members of his own party. says the Guardian.

    On the linguistic point: is unendorsed a word? Is it the right word?

    Unendorsed to me suggests not-yet-endorsed. But senior Republicans who have previously endorsed Trump are now withdrawing their endorsement.

    disendorsed ?

  20. Michael Watts said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 3:17 am

    Prefix un- is normal for undoing things. It's also normal for things that haven't been done yet. Such is the way of the world.

    [(myl) And then there's "still unpacked", just to drive home the point.]

  21. Jichang Lulu said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 4:33 am

    Hardly an auctoritas, but the Chinese media consensus seems to be that 'bitch' refers to O'Dell. From the People's Daily website: 我像追婊子一样追她 'I went after her the way you go after a whore'.

  22. Saurs said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 7:25 am

    The American idiom, anyway, is clear on this usage: "like a bitch" when describing a task at hand feminizes and therefore diminishes the actor, unable to perform like a man. "Bitch" directed at men or by men at themselves is an insult, implies ineptitude and weakness because women are inept and weak.

  23. Jim Twitchell said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 7:32 am

    For what it's worth, here's what I thought. Under the general category of the man protests too much, I see the comment as part of the Donald's elaborate guise of sexual conquest. Okay, he's all about power over women but is it really over women?

    As opposed to his Howard Stern presentation of self, here in this exchange he's really being candid. He's coming on to her like he's a bitch. Just what he says. No metaphor. Note later he talks abt grabbing pussy. Now hetros don't do this. They grab breasts or butts. Gay people (nothing wrong with that) grope the crotch.

    My takeaway: "Grab em by the pussy" is every bit as revealing as "came on her like a bitch" and from the same repressed sexual yearning.

  24. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 8:30 am

    The Keith Olbermann video mentions "Kristin Stewart dumped Robert Pattinson like a dog," but I think in that case it refers to Pattinson?

    No, it's someone else who was dumped like a dog: Kristin Stewart, according to Trump, cheated on Robert Pattinson like a dog. If dogs can be fired or thrown off TV, I guess they can be dumped, but 'cheated on him as one would cheat on a dog' seems to be going a bit too far, so I'm guessing it's Stewart who is like a dog in this case. (Though this being Trump, one never knows.)

  25. cameron said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 9:05 am

    I agree with the posters above who see this as a generalization of the "hurts like a bitch" usage.

    I think this is a case similar to "big league", where Mr Trump's idiolect allows for a much wider range of application of a phrase than what is in general usage.

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 9:55 am

    This thread is responsible for my "Shoot me like an Irish soldier, do not hang me like a dog" earworm, and I only know three lines of the song.

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 10:51 am

    Leslie: I'm surprised other commenters don't think this is a parallel to/extension of his frequent use of "like a dog" as an insult.

    Is it possible that "like a dog" is his public euphemism and in private he says "like a bitch"?

    Michael Watts: Prefix un- is normal for undoing things.

    That reminds me of an undernegation I heard on All Things Considered last night. The columnist Mona Charen said, "There are things that President Obama has done that are undoable, such as the mess he has made of Syria and the deal with Iran that cannot be just simply waved away with the stroke of a pen." (Emphasis added.) She meant "un-undoable".

  28. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 10:58 am

    Forgot the link to the transcript of the segment with Charen.

  29. David Perry said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 9:48 pm

    It means he both failed in his attempted conquest and is pissed at himself and is calling himself a bitch and also as an intensifier and also as the female dog. It is one of the most ingenious triple entendres of all time. A wordsmith par excellence.

  30. Jamal said,

    October 10, 2016 @ 8:50 am

    He's calling himself a bitch. A weakling. Instead of coming out and just telling her he wanted sex, he decided to attempt to butter her up by buying her furniture, first.

  31. Rogelio Ocano said,

    October 10, 2016 @ 11:58 am

    Are people really discussing what "Moved on her like a bitch" means?… Jesus… It's just him saying "I tried really hard to have sex with her. Tremendously hard. I was slaving away at it."

  32. Dan said,

    October 10, 2016 @ 9:59 pm

    Having spent the last couple days trying to figure it out too, I think it was an intensifier that was used too generally in the moment by Trump. However, one intriguing alternative is that he used the term "like a bitch" as shorthand for "like a bitch in heat," which while somewhat archaic, fits within the context of what he's saying (I.e. Likening himself to a female dog 'in season' and crazed with mating).

  33. a said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 10:55 am

    I think he uses that word to make clear, thats she had to know who Donald trump is. He wanna hurt her with sxx (crazy men's thinking).

  34. TGAS said,

    October 12, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

    I must say that I find all the standard explanations for "like a bitch" to be incompatible with DT's context. As I thought about the phrasing, I ultimately took it in context with his comment about kissing women suddenly, without any warning. He speaks to Billy Bush of his lack of power over himself physically. So, then, take this to a furniture store where his married victim is inspecting furniture. How would someone who cannot control himself move on such a person…from behind.

    I don't mean to overstate it; I trust I'm not completely crazy despite many others' alternative explanations. But I think the overall context of his conversation with BB–combined with the unusual syntactical placement of "like a bitch"–suggests that, just as he might suddenly kiss a woman without warning, he also suddenly attacked the woman in question from behind.

  35. HH said,

    October 15, 2016 @ 1:01 am

    As an American, my immediate understanding paralleled Saurs' and Jamal's comments above. Trump is referencing himself here. As used in reference to men- especially in similar "locker room" contexts- "like a bitch" describes weakness.

  36. Wyrd said,

    October 18, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

    Trump probably sees all people as dogs. And he intends / expects to be top dog.

    So he attempted to "move on [a female dog]" in exactly the way a male dog would a female dog. (Just speculating, theorizing) He tried to mount her. She fended him off or maybe saw him coming and deflected the situation into something not totally effed up. "Oh I think they have couches over there– *quickly dodges*"

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

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