"trump up" = inflate

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Apr 14 15:04:45 UTC 2008

On Apr 13, 2008, at 1:12 PM, Alison Murie wrote:

> on 4/13/08 11:51 AM, Laurence Horn at laurence.horn at YALE.EDU wrote:
>> At 8:06 AM -0700 4/13/08, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>> A Fox News correspondent reports that even as the "Obama camp" tries
>>> to minimize his recent comment about bitterness in Pennsylvania, the
>>> "Clinton camp is trying to trump up the statement."
>>> See, "trump" must be from "trumpet," right?  So, like, "trump up"
>>> must mean to inflate something, like when you blow into a trumpet?
>>> Or maybe to make a noise about something, like when you blow into a
>>> trumpet.
>> with influence from "ramp up"?
> ~~~~~~~~~~~
> It never occurred to me to examine its roots before, but "trumped
> up" has
> been in my idiolect forever, not as an intensifier like "blown up"
> but as a
> wholly invented sthg-or-other: often an excuse.  It carries a
> distinct air
> of fakeness.   Living, as we do, more or less beyond the reach of
> Fox, I
> didn't hear the example given above.

i suspect that everyone here has the sense of "trump up" that you do
-- OED's 'to get up or devise in an unscupulous way; to forge,
fabricate, invent'.  especially common in the adjective "trumped-up",
as in a trumped-up story or charge.  (the OED derives this verb
"trump" from the noun "trump" as used in card-playing, but it admits
that the development of some of its senses is unclear.)  other
dictionaries have similar definitions for "trump up".

(the OED also has a transitive verb "trump up" 'trumpet, proclaim,
celebrate, extol' (straightforwardly related to "trumpet"), though it
says this one is now rare or obsolete.)

i also suspect that most people here are unfamiliar with the 'inflate,
blow up, exaggerate' sense of "trump up"; for most of us, it looks
like an innovation (or a survival, or a previously unencountered
dialect item).  the comments so far suggest that it's a combo (of some
sort) of the widespread "trump up" 'invent' and "trumpet", perhaps
influenced by by some other V+"up" combinations.

first observation: there's a fair amount of "trump up" 'inflate,
exaggerate' (and also 'expand, increase') around.  Jon Lighter's
original example is quite possibly *not* an inadvertent error.  here
are a few (of a great many) relevant hits:

   Mar 24, 2008 ... The fact is the Clinton campaign is increasing
relying on lies and distortions to trump up her past experience. [nice
typo, with -ly omitted in anticipation of the ly in "rely"]

   Mar 29, 2008 ... and why is it like 3 seconds long? [nice discourse-
particle "like" in informal writing] it annoys me so much, I hate when
developers trump up small noises to be 5 second complex
unnecessariness ...

   Jun 7, 2007 ... To trump up viewership for the show's next season,
CBS will rebroadcast the first season in the summer, stream episodes
and clips online and ...

so: new to me, but certainly out there; a fair number of people have
the new meanings for "trump up".

second observation: you can see the development of the new meanings as
straightforward semantic extension (though clearly with some influence
from "trumpet").  here's a cite that could go either way (or both ways):

   SC legislators trump up fear of voter fraud. By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network. When I asked the 62 young people at
Fairfield High school’s ...

the legislators in question were to some degree fabricating (that is,
claiming without evidence, and almost surely without substantial basis
in fact) a public perception that there is voter fraud and a public
fear of this fraud.  but there was surely *some* such public
perception and fear, so that now the legislators are exaggerating them
and also increasing them (or trying to).  there's a path from
fabrication to exaggeration and expansion.

and the echo of "trumpet" adds some horn-blowing noise to the whole


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