I've read quite some news about one of D J Trump's frequently used word, bigly/big league.

During the first debate, he used the expression while speaking about taxes.

“I’m going to cut taxes [bigly/big league], and you’re going to raise taxes [bigly/big league]. End of story.”

And yesterday, he used that word again while discussing his immigration plan.

“You can come back in, and you can become a citizen, but it’s very unfair. We have millions of people who did it the right way. They’re on line. They’re waiting. We’re going to speed up the process [bigly/big league] because it’s very inefficient.”

It seems most native speakers of American English are quite confused between the two. I’m not supposed to be in the position to judge which is the exact word Mr. Trump used, for I'm not a native speaker. I know the two words sound very similar, but I just don't understand why they are so confusing. "Bigly" is an adverb(It may be rarely used,but still exists. See http://www.dictionary.com/browse/big?s=t), while "big league" is a noun or an adjective. As far as I know about English grammar, in the two above passages I quoted, it should be "bigly" as an adverb to modify the verb or the verb phrase like "raise" or "speed up".

So, what's so confusing about "bigly" or "big league"?

  • 4
    The big leagues refers to professional sports. To do something "big league" is a figurative expression meaning to do it in a big way, that is, not doing something that will have a minor or incremental effect but a major effect.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 1:58
  • the title of this question is confusing and the first question mark looks weird Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 7:44

3 Answers 3


I think the whole thing is pretty silly myself -- I thought it was obvious he's been saying "big-league" but not fully enunciating the last G (a fairly common way to pronounce it). I don't think anyone's actually confused about what his intended meaning is (a lot, big time, to a great extent), I think people just latched on to this to make fun of how he talks.

That said, here's an article I just found that gives an interesting insight into the history of the word. Of note,

The first meaning, says Stamper, was to mean “with great force or violently or strongly.” It appeared in such fashion in the classic King Arthur tale Le Morte d’Arthur, published way back in 1485: “So roughly and so bigly that none might withstand him,” wrote Sir Thomas Malory.

The second meaning, which has been more popular in recent centuries, means “boastfully, haughtily or proudly.” Thomas Hardy put it to use in his 1874 novel Far From the Madding Crowd: “I don’t see that I deserve to be put upon and stormed out for nothing, concluded the small woman bigly.”

And then, about 120 years ago, the word mostly disappeared from use. Until Trump said it — or sounded like he said.

The thing is, while dictionaries and linguists might insist it's a real word, most native speakers have never heard it used. It disappeared from usage. So much so that now, it sounds completely made up.

Furthermore, it's made of two small and simple components ("big," one of the first words a toddler learns, and "-ly," the simple adverbial ending). This makes it sound like the kind of word a small child would make up and use, thinking it's correct.

So I suspect people joke about his perceived usage of the word because it fits with the perception of how Trump talks, using small and simple words.

That perhaps explains why "bigly" sounds strange, but why is "big-league" okay? It's not an adverb, is it?

Well, technically no. But parts of speech in English can be very fluid. In informal registers, we sometimes use adjectives as adverbs without modification. Word order makes the meaning clear: if the adjective is not modifying a noun, then it's presumably acting as an adverb.

She's driving slow.

This wouldn't be considered correct in more formal registers (we should use the -ly suffix), but in colloquial speech it would be fairly common.

Beyond that, we understand "big-league" would be difficult to pronounce with a -ly ending, so it makes sense that it would stay unmodified if used as an adverb.

  • Wow. I think I've got something of it. I did not intend to bring up anything political... I 'm only talking about the words' usage. Very good explanation, Thank you.
    – dennylv
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 3:05

He says "big league." He relaxes the pronunciation of the second word, so the g sound in "league" is softly spoken.

Mr Trump's use of "big league" as an adverb is the same as the use of big time.


on a large scale; to a great extent.
(Google definition)

See also The free dictionary:

a lot

He owes her big time for all the favors she's done for him. I got screwed big time when I signed that agreement.

This is because the big leagues are the highest level of professional sports (this is probably used mostly in baseball). So, if you become a big league player, you've made it big time.

Bigly is indeed rare, in fact, I've never heard anyone say it. It's basically nonexistent. I've no idea about the hype about Mr Trump's alleged use of the word, but there's a lot of irrelevant and silly stuff being said about the candidates.


I think the reason many Americans were confused is that "big league" is almost always used as an adjective and comes before the noun that it modifies ("that was a big-league effort"). I had never before seen it used as an adverb, or after the word it modifies.

I fully accept that he was saying "big league", but it isn't natural to use "big league" that way, and therefore many Americans weren't sure what word he was using when they heard him speak.

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