The Presidential candidate seems to have resurrected the adverb bigly, the most recent example of which that the OED is able to quote being from 1927.

I am, though just wondering in which sense he was using it. The OED has two senses:

1)With great force; firmly, violently; (also) stoutly, strongly, the most recent example from 1913.

2)Loudly, boastfully; proudly, haughtily, pompously., the most recent example from 1927.

The Seattle Times quotes Susan Lin, an assistant professor in linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley [as saying]that people who study sounds used in speech have determined Trump is actually saying “big league”: note the velar pinch and the stop closure/burst.

What does Mr Trump mean by bigly or big league? I think we should be told.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Oct 22, 2016 at 16:51
  • Please edit this to add (or link to) some primary source data/recordings of Trump saying the word(s) in question. Nov 4, 2016 at 13:55

1 Answer 1


He's not saying 'bigly'. He's saying 'big-league'. He uses what you hear often enough that sometimes in faster speech it sounds like 'bigly'; when slower he enunciates it as 'big league' (phonetically it is easy to drop (in pronouncing)/miss (in hearing) the 'g' because the diphthong /ij/ ends in the jot semi-vowel and final stops in English are not released.

Also the reason you tend to hear 'bigly' is because he tends to use the adjective 'big league' in a place that you'd normally hear an adverb. So as non-wordish as 'bigly' sounds, you ear hears that instead of the actual word 'big league'.

Now that that's cleared up, the meaning of 'big league' is essentially 'really' or 'a lot'. It comes from a sports metaphor, the big leagues are important, the main stage, but the minor league or little league are for those trying to get into the big league. So 'big league' is a noun metaphorically meaning a very important environment. For example:

I submitted my article to some minor journals, but my advisor said I should really shoot for the big leagues

The CEO resigned because he had an opportunity at a big league investment company.

That second example is already stretching the meaning a little, using it now as a noun modifier.

Now even further, to actual usages:

"That will be proven out, big league"

"We are going to start winning, big league"

Now it sorta makes sense, sorta.

It's not usual in English to do such a long path, from noun to noun-modifier to adjective to adverb to sentence modifier (but there is an example right there 'really'), but if not for the loose play with expected grammar, the semantics is not a terribly far step for the meaning to be 'very much' or 'a lot' or 'really, to an extreme'.

  • 4
    Even Mark Liberman at Language Log concedes that there is no concensus on what was actually said. Your authority for "He's not saying 'bigly'. He's saying 'big-league'." needs citing. (I'd guess you're right, but ELU isn't about guesswork.) Oct 22, 2016 at 13:31
  • Few native speakers customary rhyme big [bɪg] and league [liːg]. Normally the first has the KIT vowel and the second the FLEECE vowel, but in this context, the referenced speaker uses the KIT vowel in both. That speaker’s accent varies from so-called General American in various other “harrible” but well-understood fashions.
    – tchrist
    Oct 22, 2016 at 17:04
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth "Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, said in an email on Sunday that Mr. Trump has been saying “big league,” not “bigly.” Companies that provide transcripts of the debates have agreed with her, as have many professional linguists, who have been mulling the question for months." nytimes.com/2016/10/25/us/politics/… "
    – MetaEd
    Oct 24, 2016 at 17:09
  • Trump uses "big league" where many people would use the expression "big time". These are virtually synonymous as adjectives, except one has sports undertones and the other has theater undertones. As an adverb, "big league" is less common than "big time", but with a highly visible personality using it, that's liable to change, big league.
    – MetaEd
    Oct 24, 2016 at 17:25
  • 1
    As to doubt about what Trump is trying to say, he himself has repeated the word articulately in order to emphasize that he is saying 'big league'.
    – Mitch
    Oct 24, 2016 at 19:46

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