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Trump, Chauvin, and English Morphology of Vileness

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi The two major people who are the triggers for the upheavals of the last few days in America...

By Farooq Kperogi, Ph.D.

The two major people who are the triggers for the upheavals of the last few days in America—Derek Chauvin and Donald Trump— have last names that translate to vileness if you add a suffix to them.

1. The Minnesota police officer who killed George Floyd is called Derek Chauvin. If you add “ism” to Chauvin, you get “chauvinism.” Etymologists say when the word came to English via French in 1840 where it occurs as “chauvinisme,” it exclusively meant "exaggerated, blind nationalism; patriotism degenerated into a vice.”

But from the late 19th century, its meaning mutated to "excessive belief in the superiority of one's race." In other words, one of the word’s meanings is “racism.” From the accounts we have read of Derek Chauvin, he appears to be a racist. How fitting that his last name is Chauvin!

Chauvinism is an eponym (as words formed from the name of a person are called) derived from Nicholas Chauvin, a French soldier who so venerated Napoleon Bonaparte that he continued to be sentimentally wedded to him and to the Republic he led years after Napoleon fell from power and the Republic he led collapsed.

2. If you add the suffix “ery” to Donald Trump’s last name you get “trumpery,” which means “statements or beliefs that are untrue or make no sense.” The word has been attested in English since at least the mid-15th century where it meant "deceit, trickery."

It came to English from the 14th century French word tromperie where it meant “to deceive.” In the 16th century, its meaning expanded to capture the notion of "showy but worthless finery."

The word is obviously not an eponym and is certainly unrelated to Donald Trump, but it nonetheless captures his life so brilliantly. Trump is by far the most mendacious president in America’s entire history.

According to the Washington Post, which keeps a record of Trump's intentional lies, as of May 29, 2020, “President Trump has made 19,127 false or misleading claims” in 1,226 days! I’d rephrase that to, Trump has made 19,127 trumperies in 1,226 days as of May 29, 2020!

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