‘The Cyber Is So Big’: Donald Trump On Web Security

Another Tuesday, another Trumpism

Donald Trump REUTERS/Mike Segar — REUTERS
Sep 07, 2016 at 1:00 PM ET

Donald Trump’s syntax is as clear as his policies: not clear. The GOP candidate added memorably to his lexicon of awkward phrasing with a stumbling display at a town hall on military issues Tuesday in Virginia.

Cyber, so big today! After being tossed a softball by retired general and Trump supporter Michael Flynn, Trump jumped from the opportunity to lay out clearly his “military, cyber, financial and ideological,” strategies to combat ISIS, and instead focused on that cyber word.

Cyber might mean lots of things, but to Donald Trump it seems to mean the internet. Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, puzzled over Trump’s intended meaning at the Language Log. “I think that General Flynn probably intended cyber to refer to attacks on cyber infrastructure, or maybe to cyber-espionage — the news has been full of references to ‘cyber weapons,’ “cyber warfare,’ ‘the cyber threat,’ ‘the cyber defense market.’” But Trump didn’t quite mean any of these things. “But Trump interprets ‘the cyber’ mean ‘the internet.’” He also uses cyber, an adjective, as a noun.

Then Trump describes cyber as “something that a short number of years ago wasn’t even a word.” This is not exactly correct. As Liberman points out, the word cybernetics began use in the late 1940s, with the scholar Norbert Winer’s Cybernetics, and “by the 1980s, cyber-, like the networked digital worlds it conjured up, was in the air.” (Gizmodo published a deep dive into the word’s history in 2013.)

Trump’s comments come in the middle of an election where American officials are concerned about Russian online attacks, and in which Donald Trump has joked that Russia should hack his opponent Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t need to explain or understand cyber to try to take advantage of it. In any case, Trump gave a blanket apology for saying “the wrong thing” in August, so there’s no reason to expect him to clarify his statements here.