My mother used strong words. Some of her tendency to overstate was inherited from her mother, my grandma, who used thrilling expressions like “Bloody murder in the third degree!” As she aged, Mom’s ways of expressing exasperation became increasingly dramatic. Among my personal favorites: “If that plumber doesn’t get here this afternoon, I’m going to (a) Shoot myself in the head! (b) Slit my wrists! (c) Blow my brains out!” If a common word was adequate, a stronger one was always better: “reluctance” morphed into “dread;” “anxious” became “terrified.” When “I was embarrassed” seemed like an understatement, “I was never so mortified in my entire life” was subbed in.
During the past election cycle, I became fascinated by Donald Trump’s use of strong words: “big league,” “smartest,” “the greatest,” ” the wealthiest,” “a failure,” “a complete disaster,” “not smart,” “dumb,” “a total loser.”
There are important differences between my mother’s words and Donald Trump’s: my mother wasn’t the president-elect, her strong language was directed towards herself and the words weren’t unkind. By this time next week, Trump will be President Trump. His words will spread around the world, affecting economies, governments and our democracy. It’s hard to believe his behavior or vocabulary will alter for the better, but if it doesn’t, we could be headed for disaster, Big League.