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TODAY’S ADDITION to my series of Etymology for our Times almost wrote itself. For the word “trumpery,” I consulted my usual Merriam-Webster, The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and, for good measure, checked with the Snopes fact-checking website.

Briefly, my sources define trumpery as “worthless nonsense,” “deceit, fraud, imposture, trickery,” “practices or beliefs that are superficially or visually appealing but have little real value,” and, in the archaic sense, “tawdry finery.”

A room in the three-story Trump Manhattan penthouse atop Trump Tower. Image from

Nailed it, even archaically.

Snopes verifies that the family name was originally Drumpf. But, as The Donald himself noted in 2004, “… a good move, since Drumpf Tower doesn’t sound nearly as catchy.”

Maybe a Drumpf ancestor didn’t have a dictionary handy. Or, on the bright side, maybe he was a bridge player: A “trump card” of the hand’s chosen suit wins over any played card not of this suit. Indeed, M-W lists a third meaning for trump as “a dependable and exemplary person.” It also notes that trump’s etymology is an alteration of “triumph.” Sort of like “covfefe,” I guess.

The etymology of “trumpery” is an international one. According to Merriam-Webster, the word derives from Middle English trompery, which came, thanks to William the Conquerer, from the Middle French tromper, meaning “to deceive,” coincidently another word in my series.

Related to tromper, the art term trompe-l’oeil, literally “trick the eye,” describes a style of painting with extremely realistic detail, often with the artistic intent to deceive.

Wall mural in trompe-l’oeil style by John Pugh. Image from

With prescience, M-W selected trumpery as its Word of the Day on 11/21/2013. This online dictionary also offers tasty synonyms of trumpery, among them, applesauce (slang), baloney (also boloney), beans, fudge and nuts. Less appetizing are codswallop, crapola (slang), hogwash, rubbish, and tommyrot. There’s enough here for most of the Republican party.

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary cites usage of trumpery as early as 1456, when Sir G. Haye wrote, “… sa that thare be na trompery.” He also wrote, “For gif fulis… be sa daft that thai wage betaill for lytill, evyn as to say… that he daunics or syngis better na he dois, or for syk maner of tromperyis.”

Yes, that about sums it up. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. Bernard Curtin
    December 1, 2020

    Today, in a crossword puzzle, the answer to the clue, “showy but worthless” was trumpery. This word describes well the petulant narcissist masquerading as a president. It also is a marvellous word for the excessive and stuffy ornamentation of the suites in Trump Tower

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