Gertrude Trump

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For nearly a year, I've been describing aspects of Donald Trump's rhetorical style — see e.g. "Trump's eloquence" (8/5/2015), "More Flesch-Kincaid grade-level nonsense" (10/23/2015), "Donald Trump's repetitive rhetoric" (12/5/2015), "Trump's rhetorical style" (12/26/2015), "Trump the Thing Explainer?" (3/19/2016), "Elaborate interiors and plain language" (6/3/2016).  Behind those observations was a question: where else have I seen or heard this pointillistic, repetitive style?

This morning, I suddenly realized that I've been Doing It Wrong. In transcribing his speeches, I've deployed punctuation and line divisions to represent the structure. But if I remove most of that visual prosody, suddenly the stylistic model leaps off the page. Consider this clip from his recent rally in Atlanta 6/15/2016:

You know the Republicans honestly folks our leaders our leaders have to get tougher. This is too tough to do it alone but you know what I think I'm gonna be forced to. I think I'm going to be forced to. Our leaders have to get a lot tougher. And be quiet, just please be quiet don't talk please be quiet. Just be quiet to the leaders. Because they have to get tougher they have to get sharper they have to get smarter we have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself I'll do very well. I'm going to do very well. OK? I'm going to do very well.

A lot of people thought I should do that anyway. But I'll just do it very nicely by myself I think you're going to have a very good result I think we'll be very happy I'll run as a Republican. Just I don't know you know the endorsement thing by the way I've gotten tremendous endorsements but if I don't get them that's OK.

It's Gertrude Stein!

Compare "Composition as Explanation" (1926):

There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning and in the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking. By this I mean so simply that anybody knows it that composition is the difference which makes each and all of them then different from other generations and this is what makes everything different otherwise they are all alike and everybody knows it because everybody says it.

It is very likely that nearly every one has been very nearly certain that something that is interesting is interesting them. Can they and do they. It is very interesting that nothing inside in them, that is when you consider the very long history of how every one ever acted or has felt, it is very interesting that nothing inside in them in all of them makes it connectedly different. By this I mean this. The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything. This makes the thing we are looking at very different and this makes what those who describe it make of it, it makes a composition, it confuses, it shows, it is, it looks, it likes it as it is, and this makes what is seen as it is seen.

As Adam Gopnik explained  ("Understanding Steinese", The New Yorker 6/24/2013):

Stein’s style makes subtle thoughts sound flat and straightforward, and it also lets straightforward, flat thoughts sound subtle. Above all, its lack of the ordinary half-tints and protective shadings of adjectives and semicolons—the Jamesian fog of implication—lends itself to generalizations, sometimes profound, often idiosyncratic, always startling. […]  Stein’s style is to writing what sushi is to cooking—not so much an example as a repudiation of the whole idea that still manages to serve the original function.



  1. m said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 11:13 am

    Before the flowers of friendship faded friendship faded

    [(my) When you are writing before there is an audience anything written is as important as any other thing and you cherish anything and everything that you have written. After the audience begins, naturally they create something that is they create you, and so not everything is so important, something is more important than another thing.]

  2. Roscoe said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 11:48 am

    Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact as a resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly in resemblance exactly a resemblance, exactly and resemblance.

  3. Ross Bender said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

    From Lectures in America:

    What is poetry and if you know what poetry is what is prose.

    As I say a noun is a name of a thing, and therefore slowly if you feel what is inside that thing you do not call it by the name by which it is known. Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion about whatever is the object about which he writes. And therefore and I say it again more and more one does not use nouns.

    And no Donald Trump is not a poet nor is he a prose stylist he is a creepy fascist therefore stop talking about him about him there is nothing to be said, there is no there there…

  4. Phony Email said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 3:00 pm

    > Doing It Wrong

    I hate to say it but I think you're still doing it wrong. Not a yuuuge mistake – but a mistake nonetheless.

    > You know the Republicans – honestly folks – our leaders, our leaders have to get tougher. This is too tough to do it alone but you know what I think I'm gonna be forced to. I think I'm going to be forced to. Our leaders have to get a lot tougher. And be quiet – just please be quiet – don't talk – please be quiet.

    I think dashes are the way to mimic spoken speech. As far as I'm concerned – there isn't even a close second.

  5. What I’m reading 16 Jun 2016 through 19 Jun 2016 | Morgan's Log said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 3:13 pm

    […] Language Log » Gertrude Trump – Yep: Donald is channeling Gertrude Stein in his prose. – (rhetoric modernism ) […]

  6. Paul Kay said,

    June 19, 2016 @ 5:52 pm

    I don't know whether he intended it this way, but I take Mark's analysis to represent an exposé of Gertrude Stein's literary failure. I'm with Adam Gopnik, who I respect, until his last sentence ("[GS's writing] manages to serve the original function."), which I absolutely disagree with. Besides, as long as I'm being unpleasant, sushi always contains rice, it does not always contain raw stuff, and the rice is always cooked.

  7. Adrian Morgan said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 1:31 am

    For me, the name Gertrude is so firmly tied to the goose from the iconic 1984 computer game that I cannot interpret "Gertrude Trump" as having any meaning other than "Trump is a goose".

    Happily, this is unlikely to lead to any consequential misunderstandings.

  8. Rubrick said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 1:37 am

    The décor in the Stein Taj Mahal casino is really something else.

  9. Peter said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 2:23 am

    I’d always previously found Stein’s prose quite baffling; I never understood how to read it. Now, with Trump’s prosody as a model, I find it suddenly flows much more naturally, and makes much more sense — and is even quite rhetorically effective. Thankyou for the illumination!

  10. Yerushalmi said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 5:50 am

    As somebody who's prepared sushi myself, I object to Gopnik's analogy. Try not cooking the rice and tell me how well that goes for you.

  11. Yerushalmi said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 6:56 am

    @Paul Kay

    Darn it, you beat me to the rice joke.

  12. Rodger C said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 11:31 am

    Roscoe, is that Gertrude Stein or Thomas Aquinas?

  13. richardelguru said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 1:05 pm

    Paul Kay & Yerushalmi
    and it was a nice joke
    Behold the family Stein!
    There's Gert, there's Ep, there's Ein.
    Gert's prose is all bunk,
    Ep's sculptures are junk
    And no one can understand Ein.

  14. peterv said,

    June 20, 2016 @ 11:37 pm

    I know the poem as:

    What a wonderful family named Stein!
    There's Gert and there's Ep and there's Ein.
    Gert writes in blank verse,
    Ep's sculptures are worse,
    And nobody understands Ein.

  15. January First-of-May said,

    June 21, 2016 @ 5:47 pm

    Might as well give the Russian translation I've read somewhere in 2004…

    В семейке по имени Штейн
    Есть Герта, есть Эп, есть и Эйн.
    Проза Герты – плоха,
    Лепка Эпа – труха,
    И морочит всем голову Эйн!

    (No, I have no idea why the triangular heck I remembered that; maybe I've read it again later.
    Incidentally, as far as I can recall, the English version was neither quite the one given by richardelguru nor the one given by peterv – it had the first two lines of the latter and the last three lines of the former. And it might have been "an incredible family".)

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