President Trump’s administration has a spelling problem, and it seems to be getting worse.
The latest cringe-worthy gaffe, courtesy of the Education Department, was a double whammy: In a tweet Friday, the agency misspelled the name of the late scholar-activist and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois. Then it followed up with a correction, with its own glaring error: “Our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”
Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life. – W.E.B. DeBois pic.twitter.com/Re4cWkPSFA
— US Dept of Education (@usedgov) February 12, 2017
It wasn’t long ago that pretty much everyone across the political spectrum could agree that it was embarrassing when our elected officials failed to use the English language correctly. Just ask former vice president Dan Quayle how to spell “potato.”
Yet as critics pounced on the latest errors as a sign of carelessness or incompetence, Trump defenders howled back, blasting the criticism as liberal-elite snobbery. It’s come to this: The fault lines of our deeply divided country have crossed into the once-neutral territory of grammar and spelling.
So how problematic is the administration’s spelling — really? We decided to take a closer look at a few recent incidents.
1. The ‘to’/‘too’ mix-up on the official Trump inauguration poster
Get'cher official Trump print from the Library of Congress. Extra "o" in "too" available separately. pic.twitter.com/Q7OTqpCPjN
— Stephen Lautens (@stephenlautens) February 12, 2017
The poster had to be removed from the Library of Congress website after people noticed that something seemed to be missing from the quote emblazoned on it. Can you spot it? Look closer. Ah, yes — one of those pesky “to”/“too” confusions. Too often the eye just skips over it, and even spell check won’t always help you with that one. Who among us hasn’t committed this offense? (But, no, probably not on an official presidential portrait.)
2. Betsy DeVos’s ‘historical’ error
Fixed Betsy DeVos's tweet. She can thank the _public_ elementary school, middle school, high school, and universities where I was educated. pic.twitter.com/A9fmIXRVlB
— Yael Rice (@Yael_Rice) January 20, 2017
Plenty of public-school alumni jumped on this usage error by the school-vouchers advocate, who has since been confirmed as education secretary. It might not have been the most egregious error — “historical” is often confused as a synonym for “historic” but actually means “belonging to the past”; and she’s hardly the only person we know who randomly capitalizes nouns such as “inauguration” that don’t actually merit it. But still, not a great look for the nation’s top education policy guru.
3. Trump’s great ‘honer’
The tweet was sent by Trump on his first full day in office. It was swiftly deleted and reposted with the correct spelling — but not before the original version was immortalized online. It might have been just one misplaced vowel, but he’d made this mistake on Twitter before, after a February 2016 presidential debate. (“Wow, every poll said I won the debate last night. Great honer!” — that tweet, too, was quickly corrected.) We’ll be blunt: “Honer” doesn’t even look close to correct, and we’re not sure how he made this blooper. But in fairness, Twitter is where we make all our finger-slip errors, too.
3. Marco Rubio the ‘leightweight chocker’
Donald Trump had to delete his misspelled tweets and send new ones. Sad! pic.twitter.com/zC0mAOQdOp
— Dan Eggen (@DanEggenWPost) February 26, 2016
In an oft-mocked tweet in February 2016, Trump lashed out at primary opponents Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio: “Lying Ted Cruz and leightweight chocker Marco Rubio teamed up last night in a last ditch effort to stop our great movement. They failed!”
Look, we get that “choker,” though correct, looks nearly as strange as “chocker” the more you stare at it. And we can see how someone focused on getting the e-i order correct in “weight” might overcompensate and screw up the “light” part — but wouldn’t you see “leightweight” and know you’d done something wrong?
As per usual, the tweet was deleted — but not before the dictionary folks supplied a snarky response.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) February 26, 2016
4. Lose vs. Loose
Hillary Clinton should not be given national security briefings in that she is a lose cannon with extraordinarily bad judgement & insticts.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2016
No way around it: There is so much wrong with this one, gnarled syntax as well as troubled spelling. Fortunately, Twitter was there to help.
— good ol shrill (@theshrillest) July 30, 2016
“Insticts” is pretty odd, but you can see how someone who spends a lot of time tweeting about “losers” could get lost trying to spell “loose.” The standard U.S. spelling, of course, is “judgment,” not “judgement,” but again — Twitter.
5. Terrorist ‘attakers’
White House released list of 78 terrorist attacks it says were "under-reported."
In 27/78, "Attacker" is spelled "attaker."
— Prof Dynarski (@dynarski) February 7, 2017
When the White House released a list of 78 “under-reported’ terrorist attacks earlier this month — aiming to prove that the media had played down the terrorism threat — reporters found themselves wading through a document riddled with typos and errors. Among other mistakes, the report misspelled “attacker” and “attackers” as “attaker” and “attakers” 27 times. Who does that? And this wasn’t a Twitter typo, but a document prepared for public release by the communications staff. This is — bad. A new level of bad. We’ve left Quayle far, far behind.
6. An unprecedented misspelling
This one was particularly regrettable because of the Freudian-slip undertones. It quickly spawned a trending hashtag, an onslaught of jokes and more than a few anti-Trump protest signs at subsequent rallies. Again, the dictionary couldn’t let this pass without taking a shot.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) December 17, 2016
“Unpresidented” did earn an official entry in Urban Dictionary, however. (It isn’t very flattering.)
7. Theresa May vs. Teresa May
— People Magazine (@people) January 27, 2017
One is the name of the British prime minister. The other is the name of a British former soft-porn actress. Guess which one appeared three times on an official White House schedule?
This one would feel more relatable and excusable — we’ve all done something like this — except we’re not talking about bungling the name of your cousin’s new boyfriend on a party invitation. We’re talking about the name of a foreign head of government, misspelled three times on an official White House document.