What If Trump Was Misheard? Some Options

Maybe the president doesn't want immigrants from "little" countries. Or "simple" ones.

Tomayto, tomahto.

Photographer: Martin H. Simon/Bloomberg

Okay, I’ll play. President Donald Trump has denied using nasty, vulgar language at a meeting Thursday with lawmakers to discuss immigration reform. He supposedly referred to African countries and Haiti with a word that’s usually unprintable, but which we’ll get to in a moment. And in Trump’s usual graceless way, he proposed more immigrants from Norway.

White House Frustrated About Trump's 'Shithole Countries' Comment

What was the word? Well, I won’t quote it here, but if you’re reading this, you’ve already heard. Although news outlets chose various ways to handle what Trump said to the lawmakers, no one felt free to ignore it. One can hardly blame them.

Now Trump says he didn’t say the word everyone is reporting that he said. Fine. Then unless everyone just made it up, he must have been misheard. That possibility creates a mystery. If the president didn’t say what he’s said to have said, what might he have said instead that his guests could have mistaken? Here are nine candidates:

Wittol countries” -- Perhaps Trump does not like nations that have been betrayed and have acquiesced in their betrayal rather than fighting back.

“Simple countries” -- A good guess. Gets the first letter right. But what could it mean? Maybe places that the president finds easy to pronounce. (Goodbye, Namibia.)

Biddle countries” -- Maybe Trump doesn’t care for countries with strong central banks. In that case, we should favor immigrants from Panama, which has no central bank at all.

“Little countries” -- Norway is just under 150,000 square miles. So maybe the president’s idea was that we should prioritize immigrants according to the size of their countries of origin. This would be Russians at the head of the list, but Brazilians, Argentinians and Algerians would all make the top 10. Also, 36 countries in Africa would rank ahead of Norway.

Victual countries” -- Could mean places where the people eat a lot, or places whose food Trump likes to eat. Geopolitically, could also mean countries at risk of being gobbled up by hungry neighbors. Ukraine, for instance.

Mittle countries” -- Maybe the president was saying that he prefers Norwegians to Scots who hurt people.

“Middle countries” -- Perhaps a mispronunciation of “mittle.” Or vice versa. If Trump meant and said “middle,” he might have meant Sweden rather than Norway. (Look at a map.) Or he could have intended to say that he prefers immigrants who are middle class. If so, the president’s words might constitute a subtle rejection of the much-maligned EB-5 visa program.

“Grit hole countries” -- Trump might not like immigrants who are do-it-yourselfers. (Yes, a grit hole saw is a thing.) Or he might not care for Australians who like to fish for bream.

“Spittle countries” -- Hmmm. No non-vulgar interpretation comes immediately to mind.

On a more serious note, the president has only himself to blame for the fact that literally no one seems to believe his denial. He’s given us too much evidence of his own tendency toward tasteless insult and what my father used to call low language. He’s stuck with the public image that he himself has created.

On this topic, Trump might profitably consult Gore Vidal’s novel “Lincoln.” Toward the end of the tale, Vidal gives us a fictionalized version of a true story: Rumors were spread in 1864 that when the 16th president visited Antietam after the great battle, he entertained himself by asking others to sing vulgar songs while the dead were being buried. In Vidal’s telling, Lincoln is asked by William Seward, his secretary of state, whether he is planning to deny the charges. 1  Here’s the reply:

“In politics,” he had said to Seward, when the subject came up, “every man must skin his own skunk. These fellows are welcome to the hide of this one. Either I have established the sort of character that gives the lie to this sort of thing, or I haven’t. If I haven’t, that is the end.”

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
  1. Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, insists in his memoir that he, not Seward, was the interlocutor.

To contact the author of this story:
Stephen L. Carter at scarter01@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Stacey Shick at sshick@bloomberg.net

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