All Trumped Up

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Adam Wren, "'I'm Still All Trumped Up'", Politico Magazine 2/13/2017:

On the first Saturday of Donald Trump’s presidency, as protesters and marchers stormed the nation’s capital and cities around the country, Dick and Jane Ames threw a party. […]

“Oh, Trump—I’m still all Trumped up,” Jane, a retired insurance broker, told me, reveling in the memory of that night […]. Across the table, her husband Dick, 73, a former air traffic controller, smiled and nodded. 

I've assumed that it was the strong positive sense of trump as in "trump card" that led Donald Trump's ancestor to change his name from Drumpf to Trump, and the "trump card" sense clearly bolsters the branding value of the name. So why, I wondered, is "trumped up" normally a bad thing to be?

The OED gives three nouns and three verbs with this same spelling and pronunciation:

trump n.1: = trumpet

Etymology: Middle English <French trompe

trump n.2: A playing-card of that suit which for the time being ranks above the other three, so that any one such card can ‘take’ any card of another suit; spec. the card, usually that last turned up by the dealer, determining this suit; also, pl. (formerly also in sing.), the suit thus determined.

Etymology: Corruption of triumph

trump n.3: A thing of small value, a trifle; pl. goods of small value, trumpery.

Etymology: Back-formation < trumpery

trump v.1: To blow or sound a trumpet; To give forth a trumpet-like sound; spec. to break wind audibly

trump v.2To deceive, cheat

Etymology: <French tromper

trump v.3: Cards. To put a trump upon; to take with a trump.

Etymology: < trump n.2

The verb+preposition form trump up is listed under v.3, but from the gloss it seems to belong better to v.2:

trump up (trans.): To get up or devise in an unscrupulous way; to forge, fabricate, invent.

It's true that up adds a similar tinge of improvisation to combinations like dream up, conjure up, whip up, mock up; and a sense of abuse or damage in combinations like foul up, blow up, muck up, smash up, … But there are are positive examples as well, like prop up, clean up, lift up, …


  1. Guy said,

    February 18, 2017 @ 5:46 pm

    I'm not sure I agree "prop up" is typically positive, although it refers to a thing that is beneficial to the one being propped up. When it doesn't have the relatively concrete sense of aiding a thing in physically standing, "prop up" suggests that the thing being propped up is incapable of being supported on its own merits and does not deserve the assistance it is receiving. It also suggests an element of puppetry of the propped up thing by the one doing the propping.

  2. Vance Maverick said,

    February 18, 2017 @ 6:25 pm

    Is the right point of reference "pump up"? I do think the people in the article want to convey that they are pumped up, which is a positive thing on the whole (regardless of Hans and Franz).

    And in connection with nominal sense 1, someone should mention the "last trump" as the herald of the apocalypse.

  3. Maude said,

    February 18, 2017 @ 9:05 pm

    Blowing his horn, bossy with the suits, the dignity of a piddly trifle. It fits in with the same série noire featuring the Secretary of Education with little education, the environment Secretary pushing coal, the Labor candidate against minimum wage…

  4. JPL said,

    February 18, 2017 @ 10:53 pm

    "'…I'm still all Trumped up'"

    I think the "up" here is more similar to its use in the sense of "filled to capacity", or more generally, "taken to the limit", as in "fed up", "filled up", "used up", but as it seems to have been used in a positive sense, "pumped up" like a ball (Vance Maverick above), "geared up", etc. would be more positive comparisons, but still having the "to the limit" sense.

    Still, the word "trump" I don't think sounds very euphonious to a native speaker of English, as it would belong in a series with other -ump words.

    What I think is that grandpa Drumpf looked up 'trump' in the OED and saw def. v.2., and said, "Perfect!"

  5. AndrewD said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 3:00 am

    I am mildly surprised that The OED doesn't appear to have the colloquial British English definition of a Trump as a fart (hence the amused look on many British faces when POTUS is referred to)

  6. Simon Wright said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 3:03 am

    AndrewD, that would be the third definition – "to break wind audibly"

  7. Jakob said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 3:08 am


    It's in, under trump, n.1:
    e. slang or vulgar. The act of breaking wind audibly.

  8. Phillip Minden said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 4:26 am

    "Lift up" is metaphorical as a whole; the "up" is local first.

    Drumpf is simply the German word for "trump" (in the card sense etc.), in this case in a pre-standard spelling somewhat reflecting that the difference between the orthography and standard pronunciation influenced by Low German on the one hand, and many High German dialects that have a difference not between voiced and unvoiced but lax and tense, with aspiration confusing more. In short, I think they simply translated the name, maybe realising it sounded a bit silly to the new compatriots.

    [(myl) Thanks — I should have thought of that…]

  9. David Marjanović said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 6:09 am

    Yeah, we've derived Trumpf from Triumph, too…

    Not knowing "trumped up", I was thinking of "hopped up"; "pumped up" fits even better.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 7:14 am

    The popular notion that the Drumpf->Trump change of spelling occurred in an "Ellis Island" context appears to be erroneous. Rather, somewhat more reliable looking sources tend to confirm that the President's immigrant grandfather was Friedrich Trump from his birth in 1869, his own never-came-to-America father was Christian Johannes Trump, etc., with the spelling switch having occurred several generations or even centuries before that within an entirely German-speaking millieu. So whatever the ancestral reasons for preferring one spelling to another might have been, that the "Trump" spelling was independently meaningful in English or sounded less funny in English can't have been it. In modern Standard German with standardized spelling, the variant spelling of the surname that means "trump" in the card-playing sense is Trumpf, which the President's ancestors seem not to have selected, although of course whether the modern dictionary spelling for that sense was the locally dominant one in the Palatinate a few centuries back may be a different question.

  11. Phillip Minden said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 7:42 am

    Have you got those sources, by any chance?

  12. Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 10:03 am

    I just love the 'corruption of triumph' etymology for the card-game associated trump — combine that with the 'fart' association, and, well, what more can I say? The perfect definition.

  13. Christian Weisgerber said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 10:40 am

    Regarding Trumpf/Trump, I'll add that the Palatinate is the southernmost area in Germany where the p > (p)f part of the High German consonant shift didn't happen, i.e., Kallstadt is north of the Speyer line. If Trump's ancestors moved from the other side of that isogloss, they may have adapted their name to the local dialect.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 11:50 am

    To Philip Minden's question, it turns out snopes (which I don't assume is the final authority on anything but is often worth considering) says that various sources are in hopeless conflict re when the surname change occurred (with the range of choices being from "mid-17th century in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War" to "possibly after the grandfather got to the US but before he was naturalized") and does not venture its own opinion as to which of the conflicting claims is the most reliable. One complicating factor might be that if the orthographic situation in Germany was anything like that in English-speaking places back in the 17th and early 18th century, individual members of the line of ancestry may not have been entirely consistent over the course of their lives in their own spelling of their surname, or the son of a fellow who had preferred the Trump spelling might have reverted to a preference for the Drumpf spelling etc etc — so we can't assume there was one and only one shift. So I have seen claims for the much older dating of the shift in contexts where the information struck me as plausible/reliable, but I guess I shouldn't claim it's a completely settled issue.

    You'd think that at least the spelling of the names the immigrant grandfather and his immediate father were given at birth would be susceptible of empirical verification from contemporaneous documents, but maybe Kallstadt was one of those places in Germany where no diligent Mormon had gotten there and transcribed or microfilmed the old parish registers before they had been irrevocably destroyed by WW2 RAF firebombing or some similar misfortune?

  15. Phillip Minden said,

    February 19, 2017 @ 3:48 pm

    This mostly seems to corroborate the idea that his grandfather immigrated and change his name, into which I really don't read much. The one reference to the 17th century may even refer to another name change, or the first documented use of their pre-American family name.

  16. Robert Coren said,

    February 20, 2017 @ 11:31 am

    If JPL's interpretation is correct (and I was inclined to read it that way too), I'd think "Trumped out" would be closer to the meaning intended; but on second glance the presence of "still" makes it unlikely. Then again, given the already-existing meaning of "trumped up", it seems a very odd thing to say of oneself.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 20, 2017 @ 2:10 pm

    FWIW I agree with some of the commenters above that the positive use here is best explained as a variation on "pumped up," with the pre-existing sense of "trumped up" being apparently overlooked or ignored. I wouldn't personally consider the prior pejorative sense of "trumped up" to be super-obscure, but "pumped up" has almost six times as many hits in COCA as "trumped up" does and it wouldn't surprise me (I haven't taken time to dig into the hits) if "trumped up" is used in fairly restricted domains that Mr. and Mrs. Ames might not have been regularly exposed to if they don't happen to like the sort of mystery novels or tv shows where it is routine for characters to claim that the charges against them are trumped up.

  18. chris said,

    February 20, 2017 @ 8:51 pm

    I hope those of us who happen to be ignorant of the phrase "trumped-up charges" will be lucky enough to stay that way. Because the alternative is that when he proclaims someone an enemy of the people, he genuinely intends to treat them accordingly.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 21, 2017 @ 11:04 am

    One might note further that there's a subdivision of the various "VERB up" phrasal verbs listed in the original post (as emended by various commenters) between those for which "all VERBED up" is a common and coherent phrase and those for which it's at best unidiomatic. That doesn't seem to depend on whether the sense is positive or negative. "All conjured up" or "all lifted up" sound very very weird to my ear, but positive "all pumped up" (or "all geared up" or "all revved up") would be perfectly idiomatic, as is negative "situation normal, all fouled/mucked/etc/etc up." The traditional semi-fraudulent sense of "trump up" doesn't work in the "all VERBed up" pattern for me, so the use of that pattern by Mrs. Ames is another sign she's doing something markedly different (and conceptually parallel to "all pumped up").

  20. philip said,

    February 23, 2017 @ 5:12 am

    I'm sort of all Trumped-out at the minute.

    (Meaning, I have reached peak trump and do not want to hear anything more about him for the rest of the week.)

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