At one point during Monday night’s debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump described the wealth he says he has.
“I have a tremendous income,” Trump said. “And the reason I say that is not in a braggadocious way. It’s because it’s about time that this country had somebody running it that has an idea about money.”
What is striking about that statement — beyond the juxtaposition of “I have a tremendous income” and “not in a braggadocious way” — is the use of the word braggadocious. It is an uncommon adjective, appearing in English-language books far less regularly than synonyms like arrogant or boastful. As told by Google Trends (which offers a rough snapshot of spikes in search-engine popularity), interest in the word peaked twice in the past half-decade.
Both instances involved Trump, and both instances involved non-boasts of whopping assets.
Here was Trump in September 2015, during a Republican primary debate: “I say, not in a braggadocious way, I’ve made billions and billions of dollars dealing with people all over the world.” (Donald Trump is worth an estimated $2.9 billion, according to Bloomberg.)
Braggadocious, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, first appeared in the United States in the 19th century. It is the adjective form of the noun braggadocio, traced to the poet Edmund Spenser. In his late 16th-century epic, “The Faerie Queene,” Spenser included a pompous character named Braggadochio. Despite his knightly boasts, Braggadochio is ultimately exposed as gutless. Like Lothario, the seducer in “Don Quixote,” the name became a stand-alone word, its definition reflecting the trait that the character embodied.
As for where Spenser came up with the name, etymologists believe the poet took the word brag or braggart and tacked on a faux Italian suffix, as was fashionable among writers at the time. (There is some debate from where the English language procured brag. It is perhaps of Scandinavian origin.)
This is not the first time a politician has sent curious voters hunting for the dictionary. At least briefly, a popular speech or political debate can spike interest in obscure vocabulary. Joe Biden, for instance, is fond of dropping the phrase “a bunch of malarkey” in his speeches, as he did in July. (Malarkey, meaning nonsense — or, less charitably, “BS” — is of uncertain origin.) Bernie Sanders prompted a rush on the definition for socialism last October.
During Monday’s debate, another curious word appeared to surface: bigly, meaning in a large way. The adverb is indeed also a real word — albeit an uncommon one, like braggadocious.
But the transcript indicates that Trump said “big league,” as in, “I’m going to cut taxes big league, and you’re going to raise taxes big league, end of story.” It’s another Trump favorite: “I’m a believer, big league, in God and the Bible,” he said last September. Trump once declared, “I know words — I have the best words,” but bigly does not seem to have made the cut.