"Donald Trump lives, works, eats…" what now?

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Donald Trump supporter Sean O'Loughlin sent out a pro-Trump press release ("Dear America") with this bizarre passage:

When people on the news call Donald Trump a racist, I find that statement difficult to believe. Like myself, Donald Trump is a life-long New Yorker. Donald Trump lives, works, eats and employs people of all races and religions.

J.B. Wogan shared this on Twitter, where it has led to much speculation about Trump's heretofore unrecognized cannibalistic predilections. (At least he doesn't discriminate when it comes to eating people!)

So what happened in this trainwreck of a sentence? The first part relies on an old phrasal template (what we call a snowclone in these parts), one that I wrote about back in 2005 in the posts, "Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones" and "Eating drinking, sleeping snowclones: the early years." As I observed in the first post, the snowclone "X eats, drinks, and sleeps Y," understood to mean "X has an all-consuming dedication to Y," is "a remarkably 'modular' snowclone, allowing a wide variety of conjoined verbs beyond eat, drink, and sleep, in numerous permutations and combinations." And in the second post, I wrote:

What distinguishes the modern form of the snowclone is the piling together of various common verbs relating to everyday life (eat, drink, sleep, think, dream, live, breathe, etc.) in a transitive formation, where the object of the conjoined verbs constitutes some sort of obsessive fixation, one that overwhelms the subject's daily activities.

So in the press release, what is O'Loughlin trying to do by using a variation of this snowclone? He seems to imply that Trump has a consuming passion for New York City in all its diversity, as represented by "people of all races and religions." That presents a problem, of course, when people becomes the object of the verb eat. The problem is compounded by the fact that the last of the conjoined verbs, employ, does not even fit the idiomatic pattern, thus encouraging a literal rather than figurative reading of how the verbs apply.

I'm not sure how one could salvage this sentence. Maybe something like, "Donald Trump lives, works, eats, and breathes diversity, employing people of all races and religions." Then again, O'Loughlin may simply be trying to match the stream-of-consciousness incoherence of his preferred candidate.

[Update: See the comments below for some alternate readings that don't involve the snowclone influence that I picked up on.]


  1. Elonkareon said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 3:52 pm

    That's not how I read this sentence at all. And I don't mean the "eats… people of all races and religions" part, because that's still a problem either way. I don't think O'Laughlin was trying to use a "snowclone" at all. Rather it looks to me like he meant "Donald Trump does the same things the rest of us (life-long New Yorkers) do: He eats, he sleeps, he drinks, and he employs people of all races and religions."

  2. Michael Watts said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

    What Elonkareon said. There's no reason to attach "people of all races and religions" to "eats".

  3. Gregory Kusnick said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 4:04 pm

    I took it to mean something along the lines of "Trump lives, works, and eats alongside people of all races etc." "Employs" seems tacked on as a not-entirely-coherent afterthought, and is somewhat redundant given that "works [with]" has already been mentioned.

    And maybe I'm behind the curve, but what does this have to do with Eskimos and their alleged 50 words for snow?

    [(bgz) Google is your friend.]

  4. Gretchen said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

    My initial assumption was that the eating referred to eating the characteristic food of, i.e. if he eats Mexican food and employs Mexican people, he could be said to "eat and employ Mexicans". (There was a widely-criticized Cinco de Mayo tweet along this direction https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/728297587418247168 ).
    In which case, this would be bad zeugma, and ineffective pandering, but not cannibalism.

  5. Rubrick said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 4:51 pm

    I didn't recognize the influence of the snowclone at all when I first read it, and I'm still unsure whether it was in the mind of the author. My analysis is that he first intended to use just the first three items, and add a "with": "Donald Trump lives, works, and eats with people of all races and religions." (which makes sense with the "New Yorker" reference; that's what New Yorkers do.)

    He then decided that Trump's status as a major employer deserved mention, so he threw in "employs"; and then, realizing "employs" doesn't take a preposition, he dropped the "with", to disastrous effect.

    If my theory is correct, then the most apt fix would be "Donald Trump lives with, works with, eats with, and employs people of all races and religions."

  6. Marfy Goodspeed said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 5:54 pm

    How about Donald Trump lives, works, eats with people of all races and religions, and employs them too. Not very pithy.

  7. Graeme said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 6:43 pm

    Slip in 'with' after 'eats' (implicitly qualifying the list of preceding verbs) and it reads fine, if colloquially, to me.

  8. JS said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

    Elonkareon/Michael Watts can't be right, as the assertion that Trump "lives, works and eats" makes for a poor rebuttal of the idea that he's a racist. It is very amusing to read the line as a snowclone, but I'm gonna say pretty unlikely it was so conceived. So what these other folks said. "Trump employs–not to mention lives, works, and eats with–etc."?

  9. Ralph Hickok said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 7:13 pm

    It's the old "He's not racist because he has a black stable hand and a Latino cleaning lady" defense.

  10. Mark Meckes said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 7:21 pm

    I don't buy Elonkareon's reading at all. In what way are eating, sleeping, and drinking particularly the province of life-long New Yorkers? Given the pervasiveness of the "eats, sleeps, and drinks X" trope, this is certainly snowclone all the way.

  11. Gregory Kusnick said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 8:42 pm

    Wikipedia turned out to be friendlier than Google, but I'm still not seeing any but the most superficial and incidental resemblance between the verb phrase "lives, works, and eats [with]" and the "eats, drinks, and sleeps X" template. The latter is meant to be metaphorical, whereas the former is just a literal (if garbled) description of what a New Yorker's daily life is actually like.

    So still no snowclone here for me, even in the broader sense.

  12. empty said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 8:42 pm

    It's generally not written with care. One sentence begins, "Although that I believe that abortion is morally wrong, …"

  13. John Swindle said,

    August 4, 2016 @ 11:23 pm

    The first time a delegation of journalists from the Peoples Republic of China came to Honolulu after the American opening to China, a bunch of us welcomed them at the airport. I asked the first weary visitor what part of China he came from. "Beijing," he said. I had to stop myself from asking, "Really? Beijing, where Chairman Mao lives and works?"

    I had made a poster saying ”有朋自远方来/不亦乐乎“ ('isn't it fun, too, when friends come from afar?') , a quote from the Analects, but left it behind at the last minute because it was the season of "criticizing Lin Piao and Confucius." That's approximately how far gone I was. The poster would of course have been appreciated if I had brought it.

  14. Jeff B. said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 1:31 am

    A little more context: "In terms of racial relations, our neighborhoods, places of employment and public schools in New York City are more diverse than anywhere in the world. When people on the news call Donald Trump a racist, I find that statement difficult to believe. Like myself, Donald Trump is a life-long New Yorker. Donald Trump lives, works, eats and employs people of all races and religions."

    To me it is clear he means lives with, works with, eats with and employs people of all races and religions. That's the only thing that makes sense to me. I'm pretty sure it isn't meant to be the snowclone construction proposed by the author here. Just a proofreading oversight.

  15. Jeff B. said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 1:34 am

    He was probably thinking in his mind "lives, works and eats with…" but forgot all about the preposition when he introduced the transitive verb "employ" at the end of the verb coordination string. This is a very common composition error, is it not? I see it all the time in papers not adequately proofread by students.

  16. RP said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 3:06 am

    My interpretation is like Rubrick and Jeff B's.

  17. Ray said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 5:51 am

    why not just put an oxford comma after eats — would that fix it? context:

    "Like myself, Donald Trump is a life-long New Yorker. [and like myself,] Donald Trump lives, works, eats, and employs people of all races and religions. Like many of my fellow New Yorkers, Donald Trump speaks his mind and that type of behavior can easily be misunderstood by people who are not New Yorkers."

    (the writer, a manhattan attorney who earlier had supported rubio, also wrote, "I could care less what people do behind closed doors" and overall his writing sounds more spoken/idomatic than written/formal…)

  18. Breffni said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 6:44 am

    Whether it's literal or a snowclone, what O'Loughlin apparently means is that he can't believe a New Yorker could be racist. Hmm…

  19. Victor Mair said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 7:28 am

    I was about to say the same thing as @Ray concerning the comma.

    Although my first reading was very much along the lines of "eats, shoots and leaves…", I really didn't have any problem understanding what O'Loughlin was saying about Donald Trump's quotidian activities.

  20. Ellen K. said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    I don't see the comma as helping. That leaves it telling us he lives, works, and eats. Yeah, so? All of us live and eat, and most of us work. It leaves it as a weird thing to say.

  21. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 8:40 am

    I really don't think the comma would help. For one thing, even with an Oxford comma it could still be read as 'eats people of all races…, and employs people of all races…'. For another, if it's not read like that, the only other possible reading is Elonkareons's: 'he lives, works and eats, and he employs people of all races…', which I agree with others in finding implausible. (I live, work and eat, but I don't employ people of all races and religions. I don't employ anyone of any race or religion.)

    I think the reading with 'with' is clearly what is meant, but it is not what is said.

  22. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 8:40 am


  23. Elonkareon said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 6:40 pm

    Yeah on review the reading incorporating "with" is more likely than what I thought originally.

  24. Ray said,

    August 5, 2016 @ 8:19 pm

    "Like many New Yorkers, Donald Trump speaks his mind, and that type of behavior can easily be misunderstood by people who are not New Yorkers. In fact, they could care less."

  25. Bathrobe said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 2:51 am

    Trump lives, works, and eats… Why has this become an expression of ordinariness? So did Joseph Stalin, Heinrich Himmler, Pol Pot, Papa Doc, Robert Mugabe, Radovan Karadžić, Ted Bundy, Joseph Mengele, Jeffrey Dahmer …

  26. Xtifr said,

    August 6, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

    It's not just the eating. How, exactly does he "live people of blah blah"? And isn't it redundant to say he "works people of…" and "employs people of…"? The sentence is a mess, and the so-called oxford comma doesn't help at all.

    I tend to agree with the suggestion that there was originally supposed to be a "with" at the end of the chain, but when that didn't fit with the last word, it was carelessly omitted.

  27. Robert said,

    August 8, 2016 @ 9:34 am

    Well, at least no one posted any tasteless comments about white meat and dark meat.

  28. DWalker said,

    August 9, 2016 @ 3:22 pm

    "Like myself, …"

    Isn't that wrong?

  29. DWalker said,

    August 10, 2016 @ 10:55 am

    Any input? I am really curious whether the sentence:

    "Like myself, Donald Trump is a life-long New Yorker."

    Is right or not. Thanks!

  30. Ralph Hickok said,

    August 10, 2016 @ 11:43 am


    I don't see anything wrong with it. Some, including MS Word's spell and grammar checker, might suggest a change to "Like me," but that doesn't make it wrong.

  31. Richard said,

    August 11, 2016 @ 6:30 am

    Has this site done an analysis of Hillary Clinton's linguistic peccadillos?

  32. Richard said,

    August 11, 2016 @ 6:36 am

    Just found an entry about Clinton reading – sigh – off an auto-cue. Not bad, but I thought someone might have written on her appearances before Congress.

    She was masterful, but then again, it is almost a family tradition.

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