How much power does an American president have?
Enough, apparently, to issue executive orders considered unsound by ethicists. And enough to alter the language we use, as evidenced by dictionary updates centered on heads of state past and present.
The Guardian reported Monday that lexicographers are tracking the use of Donald Trump–related pejoratives, including “Trumpertantrum,” “Trumpkin” and “Trumponomics.”
“We have collected evidence of all of these words and are actively tracking them to see how usage develops,” Katherine Martin, head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford, told The Huffington Post. “Whether they are eventually added to our dictionaries will depend on the extent to which evidence continues to proliferate.”
Oxford Dictionaries makes a distinction between words added to its digital database, Oxford Online, and words added to the more permanent Oxford English Dictionary. The former is a fluid snapshot of the language at present; the latter is a historical resource that never removes entries. For a word to be added to Oxford Online, its use has to be more than a trendy blip, but it doesn’t need to have been in the lexicon for decades, as is often the case with the OED.
Martin said that “Trumpertanrum,” which spiked in use for a month last February after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) coined it, “does not appear to be gaining ground as a part of the lexicon.” But “Trumpkin,” as used to describe the president’s supporters, “has been used in a variety of contexts and sources over a longer period of time and continues to amass evidence.”
The word’s other use ― to describe Trump-inspired jack-o’-lanterns ― only saw “significant but ephemeral” use around Halloween last year.
As for “Trumponomics,” Martin says similar words have caught on varyingly. “’Reaganomics’ and ‘Clintonomics’ were widely adopted, but ‘Bushonomics’ and ‘Obamanomics’ far less so,” she said.
One word Obama’s legacy did leave behind: “Obamacare,” which Oxford Dictionaries defines as “an informal term for a federal law intended to improve access to health insurance for U.S. citizens.” The wording of the definition is intentionally nonpartisan, as are the example sentences listed below it.
“Oxford Dictionaries endeavors to provide factual, unbiased definitions and sample sentences for all words,” Martin said. “This is particularly important when the words are of a political nature.”