Whether or not you agree with what the candidates are saying this election, have you been listening to how they say it?
Ben Zimmer, the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, joined MPR News host Kerri Miller to talk about the phrases and speech styles that stand out this season.
Supporters of Donald Trump have praised his off-the-cuff, informal way of speaking, which is heavy on repetition and strong adjectives: terrible, beautiful, corrupt. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has been criticized for a lack of smoothness in her speech, which is more formal and scripted.
Below are some of the words and phrases that have caught the ears of listeners this election cycle. For the complete discussion, use the audio player above.
This seemingly invented word has had Trump's critics buzzing, but if you listen carefully, Zimmer said, the candidate is actually saying "big league."
"He uses it as a kind of adverb: 'We're going to win, big-league,'" Zimmer said, giving an example. Trump's campaign has embraced the term, and is printing it on campaign paraphernalia.
Basket of deplorables
Clinton's dismissal of Trump supporters as a "basket of deplorables" became a popular soundbite, and one that the Trump campaign itself has repeated.
"I don't think she expected that particular phrase to be picked up and turned into this kind of weapon against her, which is what Trump and his supporters have done," Zimmer said. He compared it to 2012 and Mitt Romney's comments about the "47 percent" and "binders full of women" going viral.
"Binders full of women" was controversial at the time, Zimmer said, "but if you think about it now, it seems almost quaint. If Trump said that, no one would pay attention because it would be the mildest thing he had said that day."
Trump has called for the "extreme vetting" of immigrants, especially individuals coming from the Middle East. The phrase, and the number of times people have heard it, exemplifies Trump's reliance on repetition, Zimmer said.
"He likes to repeat his favorite words and phrases over and over again."
This is an example of a phrase that once ruled headlines and rattled candidates, but has lost its power.
"'Flip-flop' is a pejorative term, whereas 'pivot' sounds much nicer," Zimmer said. "'Flip-flop' is used by your opponent to say: You can't stay confident in your position. I think we heard it a lot more in previous campaign cycles. Perhaps we've moved on from the flip-flopping to lots of other ways you can describe your opponent."
Yes, "the" seems like a basic, innocuous word, but some people have been calling Trump out for saying "the African-Americans" or "the Latinos." It's an odd construction that catches the ear.
"It almost feels like a distancing move," Zimmer said. "Some have seen that as a dog-whistle for his base of white voters who might feel certain anxieties about people of color. That's one way people have looked at his use of the very simple word 'the,' in places we might not necessarily expect that."
When they go low, we go high
Is it possible the most enduring line of this election won't come from either candidate? This line from Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention has been picked up over and over again, including by Clinton in the second debate.
Yes, we mean "huge." Trump's pronunciation of "huge" has sparked plenty of satire this election: Alec Baldwin revels in it with his Saturday Night Live portrayal of the candidate.
But having an accent — in this case, a New York accent — can be a positive for a politician. "It lends them a certain amount of authenticity," Zimmer said of both Trump and Bernie Sanders' way of speaking. It shows that they are actually "from an identifiable place in the country, and they speak as a voice from a particular place, not just a voice from nowhere."