Covfefe: A Brief History Of Word Formation In The English Language

Overnight, something happened: a new word, covfefe, was born. Thanks to what is a typo on the word “coverage” by Donald Trump, “covfefe” is now in existence. What does this word even mean? According to the internet, covfefe can mean many different things. According to Donald Trump and those surrounding it, it is either a typo or a secret word that only certain people will understand.

At 2 p.m. on May 31, Donald Trump made the following tweet: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” This tweet stayed in place on the president’s Twitter account for more than five hours until it was removed and replaced with a new tweet: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’??? Enjoy!” But, by then, the internet was already running with the new word and covfefe was becoming instilled in popular culture.

Already, covfefe was a success in the word of meme-making. References to Urban Dictionary definitions and just how you are supposed to pronounce covfefe was already rife. After all, is it Cov-FEE-fee or Cov-fee-FEE?

And that is exactly how new words such as covfefe are created in the digital age. But is this a new phenomenon or has word creation always been this organic?

Over the course of the history of the English language, word forming and the creation of new words have been an organic process. Words are created, changed, and deleted as users see fit. Many English language purists insist new words — especially those that are created on the internet — should not be added to the dictionary. However, this has never been the way language works.

For example, have you ever looked out your office building window and commented on the smog outside? If you have, you have used what is known as a blending, or clipping, word. Smog is a blend of two words: smoke and fog. These words have been chopped and joined to create a new word to describe something that is a relatively new weather event. Covfefe is not an example of a blending word, however.

There are plenty of other ways new words have been traditionally formed.

Words can be shortened from existing words to create a new version of the same word. Fax (facsimile) and flu (influenza) are two such words. Once again, Covfefe does not fall into this category either.

[Image by Pool/Getty Images]

For those, such as CNN reporting about Hillary Clinton’s comments on the covfefe debacle, who are suggesting a Russian conspiracy theory in relation to Donald Trump using covfefe in a tweet, this is known as a loan word. Some people also refer to this as using “calque words.” Both of these terms are slightly different to each other. Calque words use a direct translation from words in another language, whereas loan words use the words themselves to define the meaning. Cliche is a word that can be used as an example of a loan word. “To lose face” is an example of a calque phrase that has been translated from another language to be used in English.

Again, this is not what Donald Trump did here when he used covfefe in his tweet. And, for the record, putting covfefe into Google translator does not reveal its origin as Russian, although, it does suggest it could be of Samoan origin.

What Donald Trump did in his tweet was misspell a word. He accidentally typed covfefe instead of coverage. This is very close to something called malapropism. When a word is accidentally spelled as a similar — yet completely different — word, it is known as malapropism. Grammarly lists some common malapropisms, but if you have ever heard someone refer to the Pacific Ocean as the Specific Ocean, you know exactly what is meant by a malapropism. Covfefe falls into this category somewhat because the word is a misspelling. However, covfefe is not a known word in the English language — yet.

Another thing that could be attributed to Donald Trump’s use of covfefe is that he suffers from dyslexia. This is a condition where people misspell words and have trouble reading even though they are not lacking in intelligence.

[Image by Urban Dictionary]

Of course, maybe Donald Trump just typed too quickly and accidentally pressed send before he really had a chance to look at what he wrote. Perhaps what he has done here is create a new word to describe this sort of social media blunder.

“Covfefe: n. When you accidentally misspell a word so badly a new meaning has to be defined.”

What do you think of Donald Trump’s gaffe? Will you be using the term “covfefe” in the future? Let us know by commenting below.

[Featured Image by Rachel Tsoumbakos]

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