Printable Version
Pronunciation: trêmp Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. (Noun) The card or suit of cards that players designate to be higher than any other. 2. (Noun) An item or action that supersedes or is superior to all others. 3. (Verb) To play a trump card in either of the preceding two senses.

Notes: This word has several meanings that seem unrelated: trumps, as in the card game, trump up charges, trump, as in 'trump someone's comment', among others. Trump in the sense of "proclaim, extol" has been replaced by trumpet in most dialects, but you may run across it if you read the literature of past centuries. The noun trumpery has come to mean "deceit, fraud". How could this be? See Word History.

In Play: Besides the name of the Republican front-runner to the 2016 US elections, this word is in use as a common common noun in English today: "Dougherty played his trump (card) at the negotiations when he offered to double anyone else's offer." It may also be used as a verb: "Ty Kuhn's contribution of $2 million trumps my measly $250 by more than a thousand-fold."

Word History: This may have been two words whose pronunciations merged, but not their meanings. Middle English trumpen was borrowed from French tromper "to deceive, cheat" from Old French tromper "to blow a trumpet", based on trompe "trumpet". (Trompette—whence English trumpet—in Old French was a diminutive of trompe, meaning "small trumpet".) French borrowed trompe from old Germanic trumpa "horn, trumpet". Quacks and mountebanks in olden days attracted the public by blowing a horn, and then cheated them into buying their wares. A better explanation is that trump is an alteration of triumph, which was once used in a similar sense. The Latin source of triumph, triumphus, probably was borrowed from Greek thriambos "hymn to the god Bacchus". In ancient Rome a triumph was the grand entry of a victorious general into the city, usually accompanied by a choir of large trumpets. However, there remain gaps in the evidence for both explanations. (Now is the time to blow the trump[et] for George Kovac, for successfully promoting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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