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US election word of the week: pivot

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s word is pivot.

For months now commentators have been asking: Will he or won’t he? Once Donald Trump has secured the Republican nomination, will he pivot and trade in his controversial policies for something softer, more electable? With just over two months to go, the pundits seem to agree that Trump is not going to pivot; or if he is, it is only to adopt even more hardline positions, especially on immigration. To borrow a much-quoted line of Margaret Thatcher’s: it seems the candidate is not for turning. Here are a few recent headlines:



Donald Trump is never going to “pivot.” And yet certain Republicans are still searching for the elusive moment when he suddenly decides to become a conventional general election candidate.

[Trump’s immigration policy is] as hard-line as he’s been from the very first day of his primary run. But please, by all means, go back to talking about how he’s pivoting.

Why did Trump and his team raise the possibility of a coherent plan for immigration reform only to knock down the expectations they themselves raised? Because the possibility of an immigration pivot was just a giant trial balloon.

Outlining in the finest detail yet his immigration plans in Phoenix, Trump made clear that there would be no general-election pivot, none of the “softening” he promised just weeks ago.

Why pivot though? One meaning of the verb is to turn around quickly on your feet, a term that is used generally, as well as in many sports including basketball:

The cha cha has some particularly hard pivoting and turning that you must master.

He pivoted on his heel and leveled a glare at her that could wilt the sturdiest blossom.

She pivots clockwise on her left foot while swinging her right leg and torso in the clockwise direction.

I know the basic rules of basketball, I can rebound, I can pivot.

This literal meaning easily becomes metaphorical, and perhaps unsurprisingly is applied to the spheres of business and politics where swift and dramatic changes of position are sometimes called for:

Assess your results and if you have been wrong, pivot!

We successfully pivoted to a product idea that we can monetize to a level to achieve our growth ambitions.

The administration seems to be pivoting toward a policy of containment.

The noun senses follow the verb, with meanings to do with changing your position swiftly and completely both physically and metaphorically. As for the much-awaited Trump pivot: time is getting short, but there is still time for the man to surprise us once again.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

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