Perhaps you have just been playing poker, euchre, or whist.
Perhaps you have been thinking a lot about trumpets.
Or perhaps you have merely sought a verb in the past few months that means to defeat or to triumph. Maybe it’s been right on the tip of your tongue, feeling plosive and transitive and monosyllabic, when you realize—
Oh. I want to say trump, but I don’t mean that dude.
The Republican presidential candidate, lately famous for coarsening public debate and attempting to delegitimize the democratic process, has also perpetrated a crime against the English language. It seems probable that his campaign will doom a perfectly pleasant word, a happy verb with a 750-year history. That is, even after the election ends, speakers and writers of English might dump the verb to trump.
It had a good run. According to Eleanor Maier, an associate editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, trump first entered English in the late 14th century, as the modern language was taking shape. At the time, trump had nothing to do with a trump card, though. It didn’t even have the same Latin root. A trump was a trumpet, and if you trumped, you were just blowing a horn.
“I can noither tabre ne trompe, ne telle none gestes,” writes William Langland in his long poem, Piers Plowman. Though this sentence is clothed in Middle English, readers of Shakespeare may recognize what’s happening: Tabre is the tabor, the little drum like a tambourine preferred by jesters and fools. Trompe is the trumpet. Written around 1380, this is the first written appearance of trump as a verb in English. It even precedes the appearance of trumpet, the noun, by about a decade.