The most powerful man in the world is flummoxed by basic grammar.
Practically every week, there's a minor hullabaloo over President Trump's shaky grasp of the English language, from his head-scratching grammatical tics to his painfully obvious misspellings. The errors have become so much of a trademark that his staffers reportedly make them on purpose to imitate his style.
Why all the misspellings? Some seem to be made in genuine error, with Trump's Twitter account deleting and reissuing tweets within a span of several minutes. Others linger long past a reasonable correction window, like neon signs proudly declaring the president's anti-elitist adherence to his own set of language rules. "Some [White House] staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch," The Boston Globe floated.
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Others have blasted any and all speculation about Trump's misspellings, with The Washington Examiner insisting "sometimes a typo is just a typo." True! But other times, where there is smock, there's fire. Here's an index of Trump's misspellings, and what they all mean.
The common mistakes
President Trump often tweets misspellings that are considered to be frequent mistakes for English speakers. These are typically phonic misspellings, like using an "e" in "separation" rather than an "a," or spelling "honor" with the wrong vowel. These sorts of mistakes aren't a reliable indicator of intelligence, as much as Trump's critics might make them out to be: "[I]f you spell well, you can still do lots of dumb things, and if you spell poorly, you can still be very smart," The New York Times wisely intones. While there is a case to be made that someone should be proofreading the president's tweets before they are fired off to the world, Trump's "common man" spelling errors frequently go uncorrected, suggesting that the White House might even be using this sort of language to come off as relatable to its audience.
Homophones are hard
President Trump frequently stumbles on homophones, accidentally using an incorrect word that sounds like the one that is intended. These mistakes also tend to go uncorrected. Sometimes, though, they backfire, such as when Trump misspelled "Marine Core" and was skewered by veterans groups for the careless mistake. These are more than simple misspellings, as they can change the meaning of the content. As one reader put it to The Washington Post, "If Trump does not distinguish between a 'Special Council' and a 'Special Counsel,' that might explain a lot about his obvious misunderstanding of all that is happening around him."
The most entertaining of all the Trump misspellings is the "oopsie," an obvious and often embarrassing mistake. The oopsie cannot be remotely believed to be any sort of gesture at sounding "common." Such misspellings are clearly a mistake — no one would believe Trump thinks "covfefe" or "thr" is a real word — and only serve to highlight the meager vetting process of a Trump tweet before it is sent out into the world. Oopsie tweets are frequently deleted, perhaps because they just make the president seem confused.
The name game
Trump often misspells a person's name. When these tweets target the president's opponents, they come across as a kind of flippant insult on their own (you can't convince me that "Adam Schitt," which was never deleted by Trump's team, is a mistake). Likewise, tweets referencing "Barrack" Obama or "Xi Xinping" seem dashed off to convey how little Trump thinks of the individual. This isn't always true, however: Trump also misspelled the name of his supporter, Bobby Knight, and quickly deleted the tweet and issued a corrected version.
The perils of autocorrect
Even the president can fall victim to awkward autocorrect mistakes. The best known is when Trump announced that his wife, "Melanie," had returned home — "Melanie" being a common correction for "Melania." More telling, perhaps, is that Trump uses his wife's name so infrequently on his phone that it hasn't learned to recognize "Melania" as a name (take it from someone whose name autocorrects to "java").
The classic typo
At last we reach the classic typo, which is exactly what it sounds like. Unlike "common man" misspellings, which one could argue are made with intention, or "oopsies" that result from clumsy fingers, the true typo is a human mistake we all make and hastily correct when we catch it. Misspellings like "waite" or "tapp" seem truly accidental, rather than intentionally misspelled. On the other hand, no category of tweet better encapsulates the hasty nature of the president's unproofread tweets than typos, the English language's simplest and dumbest mistakes. "I know this is not the most important issue in the world," CNN's Brian Stelter told The Nation, "but I do think it's important because it speaks to — if you can't get the small stuff right, can you get the big stuff right like a North Korea summit?"
Sometimes a Trump misspelling is so glaring that it's hard to write off as a mere typo. That's where the category of "baiting" comes in. The most speculative of all of Trump's misspellings, these tweets seem designed to get the media talking about the glaring error in the tweet — while also amplifying Trump's message. It was irresistible to mock Trump's spelling of "smocking" on Monday, for example, but in doing so one also promotes the message that Robert Mueller's investigation is somehow unfounded. Another such example identified by the conservative blog Sparta Report is the repeated misspelling of "counsel" by the president. Sparta Report writes, "Trump, by giving the media something they can devote their petty and insignificant fixation on 'mistakes' made by the president, will get his broader message out to the general public: setting the stage for the special counsel to be fired."
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