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The Media's Tired "Trumped" Puns Are New. Getting "Trumped" Is Not.

The centuries-long history of a curious word

Donald Trump's unexpected lead in the Republican presidential race has been the gift that keeps on giving to the media—especially to headline writers who can't resist a good pun. “How Jeb got Trumped by The Donald,” Vox explainer'd. Politico: “How Jeb and the GOP Got Trumped.” The New York Times: “Trumped Again.” Arizona Republic: “5 Reasons Republicans Need Smelling Salts After Trumped-up Debate.” Dallas Morning News: “Other Candidates Try, but Only One had the Trump Card.” And so on.

The verb and noun forms of "trump," of course, predate Donald (though he may try to convince you otherwise). Google’s Ngram viewer shows "trump," "trumped," and "trump card" have been steadily gaining in usage for the few centuries:

The phrases “trump card” and “trumped” come from a 16th-century French card game called Triomphe, an ancestor of Whist. A “trump” is a card that outranks all others; to be “trumped” is to be defeated. The verb form eventually made its way into general usage, to mean “surpassed” or “beaten”—which is precisely what Donald Trump is doing to the other candidates right now. (The highest trump of all in a tarot deck? The fool. In British euchre, it’s the joker. )

But an out-of-fashion meaning of “trumped” may be even more apt to Donald. Until the 17th century, “to trump” meant “to deceive or cheat,” possibly derived from the French word for “to blow a trumpet” (the Trump surname comes from the word “trumpeter”). A 19th-century etymological dictionary explains that “quacks and mountebanks” attracted attention by blowing a horn and then swindling people. That sounds familiar.