Words in the News

covfefe

Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Friends fans will remember the moment where Monica, having gambled her apartment on an impromptu quiz and lost, exclaims in horror and despair: That’s not even a word!

Monica was referring to Rachel’s answer “transponster”, but the phrase must have been on the lips of many when President Trump tweeted late on Tuesday night:



Despite the constant negative press covfefe

The President then went off to do more interesting things, leaving the Twittersphere to speculate over what he could possibly have meant.

In fact it seems pretty obvious that he meant to type “coverage”, but by leaving the tweet hanging there until the next morning he allowed Twitter full rein to analyse and poke fun at the odd coinage to its heart’s content. Several linguists weighed into the debate, pointing out that the sequence -fefe does not occur in English and speculating about the non-word’s pronunciation, potential meaning and significance. People started using -fefe as a libfix, despite a lack of clarity or consensus about what it might mean.

So is covfefe a word? Only time will tell, but for the time being it wouldn’t be accepted as an entry in the Open Dictionary as it doesn’t satisfy the criteria for admission.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

12 Comments

  • It’s obviously a mispelling of ‘fief’, he would like all of us to go back to a feudal system….

  • This is an interesting question, E Parks. People came to this conclusion because, as corpus linguistics has shown, language generally behaves fairly predictably. If you look for ‘negative press’ followed by a noun in a corpus, ‘coverage’ is by far the most frequent one that comes up, along with some other much less frequent ones like ‘attention’ and ‘reports’. If you look for ‘negative press’ followed by a noun starting with the letters ‘cov’ then ‘coverage’ is the only possibility. So if someone types the sequence ‘negative press cov’, chances that they meant to type anything other than ‘coverage’ are vanishingly small.

  • I knew from the first time I saw that Trump used this word that he fell asleep with his left hand on the keyboard with his middle three fingers on those keys.

  • well, I think he wrote it deliberately in order to draw readers’ attention, and according to the English consonant clusters, both labia dental sounds / v/ and / f/ never come in sequence

  • Kerfuffle: “commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views”.

    Per Ms. Potter: “If you look for ‘negative press’ followed by a noun starting with the letters ‘cov’ then ‘coverage’ is the only possibility.”

    Yes, if you limit yourself to words restricted to spelling beginning with ‘cov’ v. considering the possibility that Trump was approximatiing spelling a word based on the sounds he recalled, you would make that assumption.

    However, as limited as Trump’s vocabulary may be, the “chances” that he would be so off track as to spell ‘coverage’ as ending in ‘fefe’ are “vanishingly small”, whereas covfefe as a stab at kerfuffle, pretty decent. Plus, its meaning, which connotes a dismissive (or contemptuous) attitude towards the press in this usage, adds further weight to kerfuffle being his intention. I suspect that those who failed to consider Michael Kimani’s suggestion (above) may have been unaware of the meaning of the word, possibly thinking he suggested it solely due to its similar sound, while its meaning actually fits more perfectly than coverage.

    I’m Trump’s age, from a family which lived in the immediate locale of Trump’s family in his youth, and covfefe tickled my dimmer memories until I heard kerfuffle on a Brit program. Although kerfuffle is rarely used in most of the US, at present, it is still fairly common in Canada and the UK.

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