This is from the same paragraph that sparked my question about pratfall a few minutes ago.

What is the origin of "pratfall?"

The full paragraph is here (highlighting is mine):

But the first pratfall ― cancelling the vote on the bill after insisting it would go forward ― is not a good sign. Presidencies often are defined, for better or worse, by their first big legislative move. Like first impressions in everyday life, they count bigly, and they establish political dynamics that can last.

What, I wonder, is the intended effect of bigly?

As with pratfall, I was surprised to find that it is an established term, albeit an archaic one. The Collins online dictionary entry for it is this:

Collins entry for "bigly"

It sounds close to the term "big league," which can be used adjectivally in informal contexts. I wonder if the writer (Howard Fineman) is deliberately (and playfully) being creative, intentionally making use of an archaic term with a new meaning that has a ring of familiarity through its association with big league and the equally informal big time, which can be used adverbially with "count."

The entire HP article

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


What, you ask, is the intended effect of bigly?

The word mocks Trump, who may have used the "big league" or "bigly" in a campaign speech, and has used other words with emphasis, like "hugh". The author has called Trump's failure to get a vote on a bill a "pratfall," which is a term for an embarrassing blunder (see MW), and is a term often used of events in comic sketches where the protagonist lands, literally or figuratively, on his back side. Thus, the effect of bigly is to further mock Trump.

The author could have used "set-back" instead of "pratfall" and noted that first impressions count a great deal instead of "bigly," from which we are entitled to conclude that the author thinks Trump is making a fool of himself or something similar. Interpretations may vary.

  • Thank you. I like the way you link "pratfall" with "bigly," but don't understand these words within their sentence: "and noted that first impressions count a great deal instead of "bigly."
    – Kevin Mark
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 5:44
  • I'm substituting "a great deal" for "bigly", (which you can do in the original sentence), thus making it more neutral and less pergorative.
    – Xanne
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:12
  • Thank you. I understand what you were trying to say now.
    – Kevin Mark
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 8:24

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