Trump Memed Bigly

“Don’t gobblefunk around with words.”

― Roald Dahl

Much is being said lately about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s use of the word, “bigly”. 

Some are saying he made up the word to mean “very big”, or “hughly”, or something of the like; others are saying he never said the word, that it was a mis-hearing of his use of the phrase, “big league”.

You’d have to be mostly deaf to confuse the two, in my opinion, but, in any event, the story that Trump said “bigly” has become a meme.

But is there really such a word?

“The adverb bigly is in the Oxford English Dictionary – described as ‘now rare’, unsurprisingly – and is defined as ‘loudly, boastfully; proudly, haughtily, pompously’. That definition dates back to the late 15th century. One of the citations is from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd: ‘I don’t see that I deserve to be put upon and stormed at for nothing!’ concluded the small woman, bigly.’

“There is an earlier meaning – ‘with great force; firmly, violently; stoutly, strongly’. That meaning was in use in the late 14th century.

“There is also an entry in the OED for bigly as an adjective (not how Trump used it – he clearly meant to use an adverb), which is completely unrelated to the adjective big. It comes from an old Scandinavian word meaning ‘to live in, dwell’, and is defined as ‘habitable, fit to live in; and hence, pleasant’. It is a relative of the Old English verb būan, to live. The Dictionary says that the word is now restricted to Scotland, the north of England, and Ireland.” (

So, yes, it seems, though one wonders where he might have heard it. Maybe in either Ireland or Scotland, where he has built golf courses.

And knowing that it is a real, albeit relatively unknown word, his detractors might give him credit for knowing a word they obviously don’t, even if they still see him bigly (in the 15th century understanding), as he orates bigly (in the 14th century understanding), and still find him decidedly not bigly (the old Scandinavian “pleasant”).

– Bill


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