When Covfefe Fillers Fail

Jean-Luc reacts to Covfefe

About twelve years ago, I was travelling through France with a friend. While most of the hotels and hostels we stayed at had an English speaker, not a lot of people outside of that spoke English. This was great. As we had been through Germany and Italy as well, it was exciting to get on a train in German and get off of it in Italian. But this did mean stumbling through the rigid romance of German, the pronunciation hell that is French, and the full body workout that is Italian.

Neither my friend nor I are any kind of language genius, but we followed one rule. Before we went anywhere, we would learn ten major phrases to deal with basic situations in the country. These included where is…, how much…, excuse me…, and please get your hand off my ass. It’s a rule I still apply today on my travels. There are obviously miles of lexical gaps, but these could be filled in.

One afternoon my friend and I walked into a bakery in Nice in search of pastry. We ordered in awful French, the woman very much upholding the stereotypical French linguistic stinginess. She raised an eyebrow, clearly not impressed with our attempt at her language. Then she punished us by giving us the hardest and oldest croissants in the entire bakery.

This is an eventuality for which I did not possess language. I said something to the effect of “Hello!” and then backed that up with a rousing “When?” She squinted, more so as I began lightly tapping it against the counter with the deafening sounds of colliding rocks. She shook her head and shrugged. Then I said, in a French accent, “Hard!” which sounded sort of like “Chaarday!” and then “Old!” which was like “ewlde!” and then a “Stale” that came out “Unstahle!”

The wheels really came off when I began guessing what the French word for “stale” might be. I threw out a bunch of words that sort of sounded right. Though I can’t remember what those miserable incantations were, in my head they sure sounded French: maybe something like “Zhebrouh” or “Foisoo” or a big old “Champalog.”

The woman silently left the counter (I assume to vomit) and didn’t appear again. My friend and I dipped our croissants in some wine we bought at the shop next door.

I had used a filler and it had blown up in my face. Who doesn’t use one from time to time? I sing famous tunes whose entire lyrics are made up of lexical fillers (my rendition of Eat my Waffles, Yum Yum Yum! to the tune of Camptown Races has been especially appreciated by the neighbor who lives on the other side of my shower).

Some use those fillers when they believe details to be unimportant. “I went to that pub and, yadda yadda yadda, I have herpes.” Or “He just kept complaining about bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh and so she shot him.” The thing is, details are important, and so the person on the receiving end of this communiqué (yay French!) might demand clarification. We have probably been both people.

When it comes to filling with an actual word then we sometimes forget that the filler employed often means something to the person we are communicating with. In my French bakery it was a nonsense filler, but fillers often take the form of a real word. People may use these real word fillers because of linguistic laziness or to keep riding the Adrenalin of a stream of consciousness rant. They can brush over linguistic details (such as meaning and correct use) and use the word just because they seem to sound right. Over the years I have both called out people and been called out by people on the wrong use of a word. True examples include:

This is the most penultimate idea we’ve ever had.

This lady isn’t being facetious. (The lady had not spoken a word, but had driven through a stop sign)

That is a true story! I swear I’m not being surreptitious.

That kid is so didactic! Look at him run!  

Which brings us to the President of the United States. Forgetting politics, one of the reasons a lot of people don’t respect the President is because he is one of the most linguistically lazy people in our daily spotlight. He shows very little regard for truth, informational integrity, the need to support views and comments, or actual language. He also ignores minor details such as the truth. He has been like this since the seeming zillion years ago that he came on the political scene, and it has drawn him a lot of negative attention.

When someone attacks the President for this, his supporters chalk it up to political foot stamping, elitist snobbery or linguistic Nazism. But this is not accurate. A person, especially a world leader, should care about the words they use and not nonchalantly throw around information they can’t support. I’ve been called out on this in the past and it dealt me such a humiliating blow that I instantly became more conscious of my words, but this does not seem to rattle him in the least. In ignoring these linguistic indiscretions, he is setting an example that we needn’t think about our words, the details, or informational responsibility. And that is a tragedy.

A person should be far more interested in the truth and not casually spurting out lies. And they should respect the language and the details in that language. And if they can’t do that, well then they can go somewhere and covfefe themselves. Perhaps bigly.

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