No, Donald Trump Did Not Invent 'Priming the Pump'

Donald Trump has been a real estate mogul, an author, a wrestler and the president of the United States. Now, in an interview with The Economist released Thursday, Trump is attempting to lay claim to another title: inventor.

While speaking about his tax reform plan and how it could increase the deficit, Trump said he was "priming the pump" to ultimately bring taxes down. Then he asked whether the interviewer was familiar with the phrase.

Related: Trump’s tax cuts plan: A simple guide to what you need to know

"We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?" Trump said. "Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago, and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do."

Internet etymologists instantly seized upon his remarks, arguing that Trump couldn't have created the term "priming the pump" because it's been around much longer than the president, who was born in 1946.

Merriam-Webster's increasingly sassy Twitter account noted that the expression, which it defines as "government investment expenditures designed to induce a self-sustaining expansion of economic activity," dates back to at least 1933. The Online Etymology Dictionary has the phrase's origin in 1840, when people used to pour water down tubes so they could pump better.

Its more recent use started in the 1900s, when British economist John Maynard Keynes applied the idea of "priming the pump" to finances. Former President Franklin Roosevelt famously tried it as a method to help the economy recover from the Great Depression. Since then, officials have been referencing the metaphor as a way to say "there is no choice but to grab the buckets and pour water into the pump until America’s distressed economy starts to chug again," as The Nation put it in 2009.

Even Trump himself has used the phrase before (which means, of course, he didn't come up with it a few days ago). In March, he asked a New York Times reporter whether he understood the concept.

"We’re also going to prime the pump," he said. "You know what I mean by 'prime the pump'? In order to get [the economy] going, and going big league, and having the jobs coming in and the taxes that will be cut very substantially and the regulations that’ll be going, we’re going to have to prime the pump to some extent. In other words: Spend money to make a lot more money in the future. And that’ll happen."

Even Urban Dictionary has posted definitions for prime the pump. Sure, some have to do with foreplay, but at least one hints at the term's Keynesian origin. It's a "phrase describing the action of covertly setting money in a tip jar before anyone else has left 'real' tips in order to ease the flow of tips by making customers feel more at ease with the idea of leaving money." Think Ryan Gosling in La La Land before he gets fired.

In any case, Trump is notorious for his tenuous grip on the English language. During the presidential campaign, for example, linguists had a debate over whether he was saying "bigly" or "big league" (he says it's "big league," but it sure sounds like "bigly"). He regularly misspells words when he tweets, and he has popularized made-up phrases like "fake news."

"The Trump presidency is a huge event for the English-speaking world," Oxford English Dictionary lexicographer Katherine Martin told Quartz. "It has definitely brought us new words already, and impacted the amount we’re using some others."

"Priming the pump," however, cannot be counted among new words. Sad!

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