Who (or what) is allowing whom?

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The big news today has been Donald Trump's morning tweetstorm about "low I.Q. crazy Mika" Brzezinski "bleeding badly from a face-lift" at Mar-A-Lago over New Years. Bill Hemmer, interviewing Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Fox News, asked her "What is the White House saying about why that went out?"

Her response:

Look I- I- I don't think that the president's ever been someone who gets attacked and doesn't push back.
Uh there have been
an outrageous number of personal attacks not just to him but to frankly everyone around him.
Uh people on that show have personally attacked me many times.
This is a president who fights fire with fire,
and certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by
liberal media and the liberal elites within the media or hollywood or anywhere else

Let's zero in on the phrase "and certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media":

Is this a speech error for "…will not allow himself to be bullied"? Or did Ms. Sanders mean that some force — say, Donald Trump's personality — will not allow him to be bullied, so that it makes sense to say that he will not be allowed to be bullied?

There was another uncertain case while Ms. Sanders was answering questions at a White House Press Briefing later today. The question ended "Did the president go too far with this tweet in its deeply personal nature?" Her response begins:

Uh I don't think so I mean I think that the president has been
uh attacked mercilessly

Her pronunciation of "mercilessly" seems to have three syllables rather than four:


rather than


Was this a speech error, or just another example of English unstressed vowel lenition?

This is not to pick on Ms. Sanders — she happens to be in the news today, and as I've often pointed out, you don't have to listen very long to anyone before something of linguistic interest comes up.



  1. Cervantes said,

    June 30, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

    I'm a beta tester for cryptic crossword constructors. For homophone clues, their principle is that all unstressed vowels are schwas. And yes, if the schwa doesn't have to defend any consonants, as in this case, it can easily disappear. "Jeet jet" means did you eat yet — the entire word you has vaporized.

  2. Y said,

    June 30, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

    In mercilessly, I hear -[sɯ̆lˠ]-, with the [ɨ] assimilating to a backer [ɯ], which makes it hard to distinguish from the following [lˠ].

  3. Belial Issimo said,

    June 30, 2017 @ 5:06 pm

    Confusion with remorselessly?

  4. Guy said,

    June 30, 2017 @ 5:23 pm

    That pronunciation of mercilessly strikes me as ordinary for a person with her accent, though I have no data to back up that impression.

  5. Davek said,

    June 30, 2017 @ 7:32 pm

    With " will not be allowed", I suspect she changed course mid-sentence. She intended to say something like "the liberal media will not be allowed", realized how authoritarian that sounded and wasn't able to completely correct the phrasing.

  6. James Wimberley said,

    July 1, 2017 @ 5:19 am

    Cervantes: "I'm a beta tester for cryptic crossword constructors. " Unemployed coal miners should be retrained for this sort of vital work. Or beta recipe testers in high-end restaurants.

  7. Max King said,

    July 1, 2017 @ 7:33 am

    "This is a president who fights fire with fire, and certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media"

    By putting out the fire, the statement becomes:

    "This is a president who . . will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media"

    Then, the message could be ,
    "The liberal media will not allow this president to be bullied" or it could be
    "The liberal media will not be allowed to bully this president" or
    "This is a president who by a presidential decree (or by rabid supporters) will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media".

    Notwithstanding the aforementioned, it's sad that a poor, sensitive, vulnerable and powerless boofhead suffers his deficiencies and perversities being publicly exposed. The naked emperor is not a pretty sight, poor diddums.

  8. Andrew Usher said,

    July 2, 2017 @ 6:30 am

    That makes perfect sense, actually, assuming you allow double passives in your grammar. Unpacking the first gives

    "[Someone] will not allow this president to be bullied by liberal media."

    , which is what was meant, although it could have been phrased better.

  9. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    July 3, 2017 @ 9:13 am

    I think, in a convoluted and multi-passive way, she was saying that the President would not, himself, allow himself to be bullied.

    *Holding my tongue powerfully here in attempt to make this comment emotionally neutral instead of exploding into laughter*

  10. Max King said,

    July 3, 2017 @ 5:31 pm

    Yep, no doubt about it Vulcan With a Mullet, she seemed to be suffering from stage-fright, and embarrassment about trying to justify Donald Boofhead's childish, petulant, narcissistic behaviour and choked on her words, and found it difficult to say "This is a president who fights fire with fire, and won't be bullied by liberal media".

    So, she ended spluttering a convoluted and multi-passive statement that inadvertently (?) implied a third party protector.

    As the WH insults and drivel continue apace, their amusement value fades and their horror value increases. Who, or what is going to snap the GOP out of this thuggery and vandalism?

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