America can’t agree on much of anything during this Cromforsaken election, but at least now there is a definitive answer to one of the great mysteries: Donald Trump is saying “big league,” not “bigly,” according to a cunning linguist who has done an audio analysis of the Great Man’s use of the phrase during the first presidential debate. It’s a conclusion that Yr Wonkette has reluctantly come to share, not that it’s going to stop us from using “bigly,” because it’s funnier. The New York Times explains the weighty issue with the appropriate gravitas:
He has used it to describe how much he wants to cut taxes (a lot); how much he thinks his opponent, Hillary Clinton, will raise taxes (a lot); how many people he says President Obama has deported (a lot); and how many more people Mr. Trump wants to deport if he wins the election (you get the idea) […]
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, said in an email on Sunday that Mr. Trump has been saying “big league,” not “bigly.”
We’re almost inclined to assume that if the campaign is insisting it’s definitely one or the other, then they must be lying. But thanks to Modern Scientific Analysis, we now know it’s “big league,” according to UC Berkeley linguistics professor Susan Lin, who “visualized her findings using two tools of her trade, a wave form and a broadband spectrogram,” which definitely detected that second “g” sound:
Dr. Lin said her findings “demonstrate definitively that at least in this utterance, which is from the very first presidential debate, there are three of the acoustic cues that would indicate to me a ‘G’ was produced at the end of this.”
Another linguist, Ben Zimmer, tracked Trump’s use of the term, going all the way back to at least 1993, and using it weirdly even then:
I have a lot of real estate friends in Japan, many of whom I have seen (this trip), and these people are hurting big league, and they think it is going to get a lot worse. (The Daily Yomiuri, Aug. 19, 1993)
The Trump campaign (or some independent swag merchant) is even trying to cash in on the “right” way to say it, which we’re betting aren’t selling nearly as well as “Nasty Woman” merch for Hillary Clinton is, because seriously.
So why do we tend to want to hear it as “bigly?” Because Trump puts it in a weird place, says Zimmer, using it as a
post-modifier for a verb phrase that is particular to Trump-ese. As Mark Liberman noted, many speakers of American English use big-time in that role, but big league is far less expected. That peculiarity of usage, along with Trump’s tendency not to release the final /g/, plays a large part in people perceiving what he says as bigly.
So the scientific consensus is in. But we still like “bigly” and intend to keep using it, at least until rightwingers acknowledge the scientific consensus on global warming. Until they do, we’re going to insist that the controversy still isn’t settled, and in fact the push to transcribe it as “big league” is in fact a plot to take away our freedoms, bigly.