WASHINGTON — From the candidate who gave us “bigly” at a presidential debate, now comes “covfefe.” in a midnight tweet from the White House.
Dictionaries confirm bigly is a real word for big way. They have no notion of covfefe, a mystery word President Donald Trump tweeted at 12:06 a.m. (EDT) Wednesday.
“Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” wrote Trump to the world on his personal Twitter site.
He left it up there for six hours, triggering a social media frenzy that reverberated around the world as to the word’s meaning.
At 6:09 a.m. (EDT) Trump returned with this tweet: “Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!”
Well, countless tweeters already were trying, and even more joined in humorous effort as the day wore on.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated it was Trump talk or code for something; that the president used it deliberately and that it was not a misspelling or typing flub. But he didn’t disclose the meaning.
“The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer told an off-camera press gaggle in the briefing room.
Linguists assumed the president meant to write “coverage” instead of “covfefe.” A few others guessed he flubbed the spelling of “kerfluffle.” Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, a former comedian, thought it was simply the last word of a president who was up too late.
Seth Cable, head of the linguistics department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, posted this reply on Facebook #DemandBetterConlangs.
Conlangs, he explained in an email, “is a ‘constructed language’, like Esperanto, or Klingon, or that language in Avatar. Only linguists would find this cute. :)”
University of Texas linguist Jurgen Struck wasn’t so forgiving.
“Given that President Trump was coming close to exhausting all methods of not making sense (for example, avoiding grammar) while continuing to utter words, it was inevitable that he would eventually begin to dismantle words themselves on his awesome crusade to deconstruct meaning and do away with the idea of a common language,” emailed Struck,
"What we we will hear next from Mr.Trump are vowels and consonants that we’ve never heard before and that could be mistaken for grunts. As before in human history, they will suffice to attract a following.”
Most of the thousands who replied to the president’s tweet joked about the indecipherable word, calling it the nuclear code or the Secret Service handle for presidential assistant Steve Bannon.
“Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my covfefe,” wrote one respondent.
“If your covfefe lasts longer than four hours, call your doctor,” advised another.
Elnathan John, who describes himself as a satirist and author, gave the word poetic meaning: “#Covfefe: What a wonder phrase … covfefe ain’t no passing craze … it means no worries for the rest of your days.”
Even the Philadelphia Police Department got into the act with this tweet to morning commuters: “Roads are still slick from last night's rain. Please use your wipers and drive with covfefe.”
Randy Cox, a University of Texas communications lecturer, came up with three possibilities:
– The category of sound of a sneeze occurring simultaneously with a cough.
– How one spells coffee when one has not had any.
– A traditional idiom wishing one luck, especially on farewell. Such as a blessed covfefe to you.
For the record, the Secret Service and FBI declined to respond to inquiries about the word’s meaning.
Contact CNHI Washington reporter Kery Murakami at firstname.lastname@example.org.