A Trumpling situation

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"Paul Ryan Refers to Furor Over Trump as Elephant in the Room", Bloomberg News 10/8/2016:

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke at the GOP “Fall Fest” unity event in his home district in Wisconsin. While he did not directly address Donald Trump’s crude and sexually aggressive remarks about women in a 2005 recording, he did refer to the furor over the comments as “a bit of an elephant in the room.” Ryan did hear boos, as did Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who was heckled by a Trump supporter.

The passage in question:

let me just start off by saying
there is a bit of an elephant in the room
and it is a troubling situation I'm serious it is
I put out a statement about this last night
I meant what I said and it's still how I feel

The first point of linguistic interest here is the bleaching of the metaphorical elephant, which has progressed to the point that it's only as a joke that we can ask "which bit?", or bring in the parable of the blind men and the various bits of the elephant. In fact Mr. Ryan just meant to use "a bit of" as a hedge, as a younger or less formal speaker might have used "like", or an older or more formal speaker might have used "if you will".

But there's also a lesson here about American English phonetics and the effects of priming on speech perception. The first few times I heard this, I thought that Mr. Ryan was saying

and it is a Trumpling situation I'm serious it is

But, I thought, it makes no sense at all for him to use this neologism in such an off-hand way. Unless Trumpling has spread pervasively in his speech community, and I somehow didn't notice it? I even checked Twitter, which confirmed my guess that the word is mostly not used by Trump supporters, and is not used all that often by anyone.

And then — after at least 10 seconds of bafflement — I realized that he actually said ". . . a troubling situation . . .". Duh.

In my defense, I was listening over feeble laptop speakers at too-low volume against a relatively loud rumble of air-handler noise.

And in a rapid pronunciation of Trumpling (compare dumpling), the /m/ might surface only as nasalization of the previous vowel, and the /p/ might well become voiced.

But still.

Update — By a strange coincidence, today's Pearls Before Swine uses the same phonetic phenomena to license a really terrible pun (click on the single frame below to see the whole strip):


  1. AG said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 8:48 am

    There are many, but the term I believe I've heard most often for his hordes of trollish online minions is "Trumpkins"

  2. Robert Coren said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 10:13 am

    I've also seen "Trumpets", presumably in part because of the pun on the brass instrument.

  3. Robert Coren said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 10:14 am

    I really did type "Trumpettes", and stupid auto-correct snuck in before I could stop it.

  4. Pflaumbaum said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 11:02 am

    It sounds to me like the /b/ has been lenited to [β] there,.

    [(myl) It does sound lenited, I agree, but it looks pretty stop-like:

    The fact that the closure duration is only about 40 milliseconds may help to explain the perceptual impression.]

  5. Catanea said,

    October 9, 2016 @ 3:18 pm

    Republican concern about elephants is troubling in itself. I feel very confused.

  6. Robert Coren said,

    October 10, 2016 @ 9:55 am

    @Catanea: Maybe the reference to "a bit of an elephant" is that they're afraid that that's all that will be left.

  7. Dre said,

    October 10, 2016 @ 3:31 pm

    Fun (and relevant) fact: My Cypriot aunt tells me that in modern Greek, beta is pronounced with a /v/ sound rather than the /b/ sound I'm familiar with from classical Greek. So what do you do in Greek if you need to transliterate a /b/ sound in a loanword? It's spelled mu-pi — that is, "mp".

  8. chris said,

    October 10, 2016 @ 9:41 pm

    I thought it was going to be a portmanteau of "Trump" and "trampling" — something which elephants do literally and Trump does metaphorically.

  9. FM said,

    October 11, 2016 @ 8:33 am

    Earlier in the campaign I Google image searched "trumpling" and got about half-and-half Trump dumplings and memes about "the mother Trump feeding its trumplings"

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