On Not Saying Donald Trump's Name: Professor Lederer Discusses

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
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THE ATLANTIC -- Given the influence Trump’s name wields, snubbing it is an attempt to withhold some of that power while staking out higher moral ground, said Jenny Lederer, an assistant professor of linguistics at San Francisco State University. “In his case, especially, people feel like not repeating his name is [a way of] not speaking to the brand and the value system that goes along with his political ideology.” Lederer, whose research focuses on the way people talk about controversial political issues, told me that a refusal to name on this scale is only possible because “Trump” is already so omnipresent that discussion of him doesn’t require any reference.

“The fact that you can not name somebody signals the conceptual salience that person has in the minds of your listeners,” said Lederer, who used Streep’s Golden Globes speech as an example. Viewers would not have known whom the actress was talking about if she had gotten on stage and started commenting on something Brad Pitt did without mentioning him by name, despite the star’s massive fame. Meanwhile, “the already defined links between Donald Trump and his egregious behavior allows [Streep] to not name him,” Lederer said.

Photo by Hannah Anderson