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The Power of the Amphibrach (treméndous)

The newly-minted President of the United States, Donald Trump, has a penchant for the word treméndous, which he utters at every opportunity along with a few other favorites. Aside from its meaning, there are some structural (formal) reasons why this particular word has pride of place in Trump’s verbal armamentarium.

First of all, this word has no constituent structure other than the adjectival morpheme {-ous}, as in lugubrious, atrocious, populous, etc. This means that the word stands by itself as far as its core meaning is concerned: its base {treménd-} is unique, unassociated with any other lexical unit.

Second, and more important from the oratorical point of view, treméndous is amphibrachic, which is to say that it is a trisyllable whose medial syllable is stressed, buttressed on both sides by unstressed syllables. It is this prosodic structure––weak, strong, weak––that gives it the power one feels both when uttered by the speaker and heard by the auditor. Perceptually, nothing ever looms taller than a high surrounded on all sides by lows.


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