Is bigly a word? Donald Trump confounds debate viewers with unusual term

Search traffic spiked for the adverb, as people on social media rushed to correct the Republiican nominee

Feliks Garcia
New York
Thursday 20 October 2016 06:13 BST
The final Presidential Debate in 90 seconds

One question stuck in people’s minds throughout the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: “Is bigly a real word?”

As the two presidential candidates traded barbs, Mr Trump relied on the adverb as he talked about President Barack Obama’s immigration record.

He asserted that Mr Obama – who is often criticised as the “deporter-in-chief” by immigrant rights activists – does, in fact, deport millions of people.

“Under Obama, millions of people have been moved out of this country,” he said. “She doesn’t want to say that, but that’s what’s happened, bigly.”

The word ignited the curiosity of debate viewers across the US – so much so that the term spiked in Google search traffic Wednesday evening. A large portion of people on Twitter mocked the New York businessman, who is not known for his mastery of the English language.

But is bigly a word?

Much to the chagrin of dozens of tweeters: Yes.

Merriam-Webster dictionary lists “bigly” as an adverb variation of the word “big” – which means “of great force”, “large”, and “of great importance”.

“What’s fascinating is that everyone assumes it’s not a word,” lexicographer Kory Stamper told The Hollywood Reporter last month. “But it is.”

Ms Stamper explained that the word originated around 1400 and lasted until about the 20th century. It fell out of use in contemporary lexicon, but, yes, it is a word.

Still, Mr Trump may not be trying to say “bigly” at all. Instead, he likely means “big league” – a noun often associated with professional sports, but later became used as an adjective to describe talent.

“I think Donald Trump meant to say big league,” Ms Stamper said. “He’s used this construction for the past year but it’s hard to understand because he swallows the final ‘G’ in league. …

“So, when he says something like, ‘I’m going to cut taxes big league’ – or ‘bigly’, I guess – what he means is, ‘I’m going to cut taxes to a huge, excessive extent."

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