A living glossary of all the words you need to understand the Trump presidency

Keeping up with the times.
Keeping up with the times.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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As times change, so does language. Circumstances arise that drive the creation of new vocabulary, modify meanings of existing words, and resurface terms that had been confined to the dustbin.

Donald Trump’s presidential election is one of these key moments. Supporters of The Donald have generated new insults, like cuck, and detractors have revived colorful terms, like kakistocracy. This glossary will help you keep track of the political terms du jour, and will be updated to ensure that your lexicon remains of-the-moment as English adjusts to the time of Trump.


Refers to the extreme political right and was first used in 2008 by Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank. Some have called on media to stop using the term, which, with its evocations of alt-rock, creates cool, edgy-sounding associations for a group that believes in white supremacy. The alt-right ideology is deliberately vague to hide the unsavory and racist beliefs it promotes, but according to the Associated Press, it is “often associated with efforts on the far right to preserve ‘white identity,’ oppose multiculturalism, and defend ‘Western values.'” Breitbart News, voice of the alt-right, describes the movement as “unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritizes the interests of their own demographic.”

Blind trust

A legal term for an official arrangement where one party (the “trustee”) manages the assets (or “trust”) of another on behalf of a beneficiary, who is kept unaware (or “blind”) of the trustee’s activities so as to avoid conflicts of interest. Given the vast Trump holdings, it’s not clear how he will make the nation’s interests his sole priority while also continuing his dealings at home and abroad. Reports in the international media of Trump’s exchanges with foreign leaders are already raising concerns about his ability to separate his role as public servant from that of servant to his own interests.

Civic society

A term first used by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in a Breitbart News Daily radio interview with The Donald before he was elected that The Verge reported is a suspected code term for nationalism. When Trump asked Bannon if he shared his concern about foreign students at Ivy League schools taking their talents back home, Bannon replied, “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think . . . ” he trailed off. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.” The implication in the statement, when taken with Bannon’s other anti-minority expressions, is that “civic society” is a polite way to imply “white society.”


This term, which sounds alarmingly like a mash-up of two vulgarities, is in fact derived from the word cuckold, meaning a man betrayed by a lover technically or just one who is emasculated. “Cuckold” has its origins in bird behavior, specifically that of the cuckoo bird, which lays its eggs in another bird’s nest—the term was used often by Shakespeare and other writers of his time. The term “cuck” was added to Urban Dictionary in 2007, and this year it became a popular alt-right insult for anyone displaying weakness or failing to exploit strength (in other words, liberals and their ilk). Cuck is also a term for a genre of pornography involving white men watching black men having their way with their wives, which is why the New Republic warns that the word has racist implications and is “popular because it pushes psycho-sexual hot buttons.”


A portmanteau of “cuckold” and “conservative.” The term “cuckservative” is, according to Breitbart News, “a gloriously effective insult” to describe anyone who sells out their political base. (See also: cuck).

Drain the swamp

A phrase used often by Trump in his campaign to indicate a cleanup or clearing out of current government. As an anti-establishment catchphrase, “drain the swamp” was an effective if startlingly strong condemnation of the status quo by someone seeking to be chief of the establishment, according to linguist David Clementson, of Ohio State University’s School of Communication. Trump used the phrase in a video he published setting forth his priorities for the first 100 days in office, signaling to his fans that he’ll act as an outsider even though he is now insider-in-chief.


Refers to clauses in the US Constitution that bar the president from profiting from his position in office, whether through dealings at home or with foreign governments. Emoluments are of particular interest in light of the president-elect’s many existing businesses and deals in the US and abroad. While he may officially eschew emoluments, however, there is little doubt that Trump’s businesses will benefit from his lofty position. (See also: blind trust).

Fake news

Fake news is false information, usually created as propaganda, that spreads easily on social media and influences popular opinion at least as much, if not more, than real news based on fact. Trump is seen as the editor-in-chief of the fake news movement because of his disregard of facts, such as when he claimed in a recent tweet, with no supporting evidence, that millions voted illegally in the US election.

Hate-speech filter evaders (social media code)

Social media platforms algorithmically filter hate speech, which means that expressions of bigotry have reached new heights of subtlety as the alt-right seeks secret ways to signal identity, using innocuous words to stand in for offensive racial slurs. For example, “Chain the googles / Gas the yahoos.” In this code lexicon, “googles” means black Americans; “yahoos” mean Mexican-Americans, while “skypes” refer to Jews and “skittles” mean Muslims. The lexicon seems to have been conceived on 4chan in response to an announcement of improved hate speech filtration in Google’s search algorithm.

Human biodiversity (HBD)

A term used by the alt-right to hide racism behind words that sound like—but are not—genuine science.


According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word means “government by the worst people.” It is derived from the Greek kakistos, which is the superlative of kakos, meaning “bad.” Combined with the English “-cracy it refers to leadership by the inept or least qualified. The word was coined in 1829 to contrast “aristocracy” and has risen anew in 2016: the Gothamist, for example, predicted that Trump’s presidency will play out like a dystopian reality TV show called American Kakistocracy.


Like kakistocracy, kleptocracy is a word derived from Greek that refers to corrupt government, specifically to leaders who use their power to steal from or exploit the people and resources they represent for personal gain. It is derived from klepto, meaning thieves, and kratos, meaning “rule” and refers literally to “rule by thieves.”  As the LA Times pointed out, even “Trump admits that he has a kleptocracy problem.”


Coined to contrast with feminist and refers to someone who supports traditional notions of male dominance. In other words, a male chauvinist. The word has been in circulation for some time; for example in 2010, Psychology Today asked, “Is it time for masculinism?” The alt-right movement has embraced the term, along with other alternative vocabulary, to make retrograde notions sound palatable. (See also: HBD).


Perhaps because the internet demands acronyms, the terms POTUS and FLOTUS were widely used during the Obama presidency to describe the president and first lady of the US. Now it seems that PEOTUS, or President Elect of the United States, has taken hold. For example, criticism of a potential Mitt Romney appointment to secretary of state by a Trump aide generated a Nov. 27 tweet from the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics Director, David Axelrod. He wrote, “Extraordinary. I have never, EVER, seen any aide to a POTUS or PEOTUS publicly try and box the boss in like this.”


An adjective relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. In a post-truth era, what feels true is considered factual, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which chose post-truth as its word of the year for 2016. But Stephen Colbert thinks the coinage stinks of plagiarism. The comedian introduced us to “truthiness” in 2005 on The Colbert Show, describing the idea that something that feels genuine is sufficiently convincing to be considered real, and now this concept describes our reality. (See also: fake news)

Sanctuary campus

With all the talk of deportation generated by the Trump campaign, American institutions of higher learning have been discussing becoming safe havens, or sanctuaries, and debating whether to refuse to cooperate in potential future government efforts to remove immigrants.


A term used by conservatives to mock alleged hypersensitivity, which The Guardian named 2016’s insult of the year. It’s a reference to a deluded concept of individual specialness popularized in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club, but was transformed into shorthand for sniveling liberals who object to inflammatory rhetoric. (See also: SJW)


Like truthiness, Trumpiness was coined by comedian Stephen Colbert. It refers to the disregard for factual information shown by Trump and his supporters. Truthiness, Colbert said, typically at least feels like truth, even when it’s not. Trumpiness allows for a more expansive ignorance—Trump can get away with lies that even his followers don’t believe, Colbert explained, citing a Washington Post story about supporters who simply ignored the president-elect’s pledges to build a wall to keep out Mexicans.

Virtue signaling

A form of humblebrag employed to show you’re on the side of what is good and right. For example, some have called the campaign to don safety pins in support of minorities facing rising violence in Britain after Brexit and in the US after Trump’s election
“virtue signaling”—an easy way to appear like you are taking a moral stand, rather than a genuine expression of assistance should violence arise.

Social Justice Warrior (SJW)

A term used derogatorily by the alt-right to describe rigid political correctness that represses free expression and all those who impose it. For example, in its report on New York University liberal studies professor Michael Rectenwald being asked to take a leave of absence after tweeting divisive material using the handle @antipcNYUprof, Breitbart News called Rectenwald an “anti-SJW professor.” (See also: snowflake)

Check back soon for more strange new words emerging from this brave new world.