The importance of rhythm (or why Trump won the elections)

This is a very topical question, which I happened to touch upon in a recent post of my Hebrew blog, as it concerns the importance of rhythm in language .

Trump clearly twigged many years ago that the characteristic meter of English speech is the trochee (an element comprising a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one)—as in the words mother, father, daughter, other, Anglo-Saxon, etc.—and that native English speakers subconsciously prefer it, and short Anglo-Saxon English words, to the meters and long words of other origin. He’s been exploiting this to pitch sales and close deals ever since.

Graphically, the trochee (pronounced troe-key) might be illustrated as follows:†

The trochee is possibly the most fundamental hallmark of English speech—so much so that it is applied even to words of foreign origin, which are stressed differently in their original language—such as abbey, baron, clergy, dungeon, justice, lion, money, prayer, princess

In fact, we are so fond of it, that we instinctively find it appealing, even when it is used to excess, for comic effect—as in the wildly successful commercial of Bounty paper towels—the Thicker, Quicker, Picker-Upper


Winston Churchill, a master of English oratory, was also keenly aware of the power of the trochee, and used it for rhetorical effect in his morale-boosting speeches:

When someone in the Prime Minister’s Office dared to correct a sentence in a speech of his which he ended with a preposition, he brilliantly rejected it (and pretty much put paid for ever to that piece of Latin-inspired pedantry) with a single sentence:

This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put!

This is a brilliant put-down, because it illustrates that if one were to comply with that misguided rule, one would produce a sentence that is entirely foreign to the natural meter of English speech:

Ernest Hemingway—the master of sparse, simple, and powerful English—also knew the power of the trochee, subtly used. One day, as he sat with a group of friends in a café, he wagered that he could write an entire story in six words. When they took him up on it, he grabbed a napkin, and wrote one of the most haunting sentences ever written in the English language:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

Graphically, it looks like this:

Not a man to bother with subtlety, Trump used trochees in his election campaign like a club to bludgeon his Republican rivals into the ground, and then to win against Hillary Clinton in critical voting districts with high ratios of folk who are most susceptible to good old Anglo-Saxon meter:

Clinton, with her intellectual tendency to use multi-syllablic words of Latin origin, even in debates with Trump (much to my frustration) never stood a chance.


†This graphic depiction is not the conventional method used in the field of prosody, but of my own making, as I find it more illustrative.

3 thoughts on “The importance of rhythm (or why Trump won the elections)

  1. Interesting and well-written. This rhythmic preference is probably one of the reasons we can spot Hebrew speakers in a crowded airport before apprehending any of the actual words.
    I’ve ‘fought’ against this barrier for years, trying to add at least a few Hebrew-language songs to my output. Nothing clever I have to say, it turns out, meshes with the melodies I prefer. Of course Danny Sanderson and Rami Kleinstein somehow make it work; most other ‘cross-overs’ offer stumbling exercises, so to speak.
    I’ll enjoy reading your other posts here/ Yoni/ Kadima, IS


  2. Pingback: Does the world find the Indian Accent of English funny? And why? | Notes by Autumn Light

  3. Pingback: What are things that should be avoided in academic writing? | Notes by Autumn Light

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.