Trump turmoil triggers tracing to Nynorsk

Stories about the Norwegian roots of the word trump have recently gone mildly viral. Here’s what our correspondent found

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

The genealogy of the surname of the 45th President is straightforward. Donald Trump is the grandson of Frederick Trump (1869-1918) and Elizabeth Christ Trump (1880-1966), a German-American business couple. As a surname, “Trump” is derived from the Bavarian word for “drum” [as, presumably, is “Drumpf,” the family’s name before immigrating to America—Ed.]. The history of the everyday English word trump is less evident.

Two lexicographic works published around the turn of the last century suggest different linguistic connections, one French, one Norwegian. The French connection is a Middle English word borrowed in the 12th or 13th century from the French trompe, referenced in the Dictionnaire général de la langue française (General dictionary of the French language) compiled by philologists Adolphe Hatzfeld and Arsène Damesteter and published in 1890 in Paris by Librairie Ch. Delagrave, a two-volume set bound in red leather, totaling 2,272 pages.

The Norwegian connection is the Nynorsk word trump, first listed in Norsk Rettskrivings-Ordbok (Norwegian spelling dictionary) compiled by educator Lars Eskeland and first published in 1906 in Oslo by Olaf Norlis Forlag. The first edition was a thin book of just 140 pages, in a plain hard cardboard cover with a taped spine, intended for use in schools. With time, it became one of the most successful Nynorsk dictionaries ever. A second enlarged edition was published in 1912, and a third further enlarged edition was published in 1924 (pictured above). After author Eskeland’s death, his brother Severin Eskeland (1880-1964) compiled a fourth edition published in 1948.

These two works are standard linguistic references, but neither divulge the origin of the word trump. The derivation of trompe prior to its entry into English remains uncertain, though it is known to have been the sourceword for trumpet in modern English. Likewise, how and when trump entered Nynorsk remains unknown. In any event, it apparently did not come from Nørront (Old Norse), as it’s not listed in Ordbog over det gamle norske Sprog (Dictionary of the Old Norwegian Language), published starting in 1862 by Norwegian linguist and priest Johan Fritzner. As the Nynorsk trump is a synonym for tramp, which as a verb—meaning to tread heavily or stamp—found its way into English in the early 14th century, with its meaning preserved, it’s likely that the dialect word trump that was incorporated in Nynorsk was a sourceword for trump in English.

Further reading (in Norwegian)
Bokmålsordboka / Nynorskordboka (Bokmål / Nynorsk Dictionary), University of Oslo and Språkrådet (Norwegian Language Council), searchable at:

• “Derfor er ‘trump’ det mest søkte ord i nynorskordboka” (Why “trump” is the most searched word in the Nynorsk Dictionary), Dagbladet, February 9, 2017, link:

• “Trump er ein egen og tver kar—på nynorsk” (Tump is a headstrong, surly fellow—in Nynorsk), NRK Hordaland, online edition, January 25, 2017, link:

M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and with time turned to writing and translating.

This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Avatar photo

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.