Trump Misspells Simple Words, Doesn't Read. Can He Qualify As a Genius?

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on January 23, 2017. Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump's recent tweets insisting that he is, and has always been, a "very stable genius" have escalated the dialogue about whether or not that's true. Is there a way to prove that someone is or isn't a genius? Do spelling errors in Trump's tweets contradict his declaration?

A recent analysis concluded that Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level, lower than any of the last 15 presidents. But spelling ability and vocabulary aren't necessarily barometers of someone's overall intelligence.

First of all, although Trump does make many spelling mistakes in his public communications, not all of them are necessarily due to his actual inability to spell. Some appear to be unintentional typos by either him or his staff—"the possibility of lasting peach" in Israel, the parade of misspelled names from "San Bernadino" to "Teresa May"—and their existence might be better attributed to carelessness rather than cognitive ability.

Trump uses social media as a weapon to control the news cycle. It works like a charm. His tweets are tactical rather than substantive. They mostly fall into one of these four categories.

— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018

Second, even errors one can assume Trump wrote himself because they come from his Twitter account—"heel" instead of "heal," "to" instead of "too," "covfefe" instead of a word—don't necessarily mean he is or is not at a given level of intelligence.

Spelling mistakes may not be indicative of someone's genius in the realm of, say, particle physics. And even eloquent and widely acclaimed writers have struggled with spelling. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a notoriously lousy speller, and Trump-like mistakes have been traced to Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and William Butler Yeats, according to the Week. English is a haphazard and random language, and people from all over the intelligence spectrum have had a hard time with it.

It's also been reported by outlets like the Washington Post that Trump doesn't read fiction, a pursuit scientifically agreed upon as a mark of an intelligent person. Psychologists have suggested that Trump's poor vocabulary is indicative of poor intelligence, according to the Guardian.

Angela Merkel has a PhD in quantum chemistry.
Donald Trump misspelled "tap."
Not exactly a meeting of the minds.

— Rick G. Rosner (@dumbassgenius) March 17, 2017

Yet there's no universally accepted definition of genius by which we might say once and for all why someone either is or isn't one. And genius doesn't always have to do with intelligence. There are athletic geniuses and artistic geniuses. As The Atlantic ​has reported, the word has basically lost all meaning; it's often just a PR tactic now.

Intelligence quotient, better known as IQ., has sometimes been considered a metric for genius. Trump frequently references IQ, as outlets like the BBC have reported. The IQ that correlates to "genius level" generally begins somewhere in the 140s, but such a number still can't "prove" that someone is or isn't a genius. Some researchers think IQ reflects motivation much more than it does innate smarts.

Snopes recently addressed a wildly false and misleading meme that claimed Trump has a genius-level IQ of 156—there's no proof. Even if there was, IQ has never been a great way to measure intelligence, and almost no one considered to be highly intelligent ever stoops to mentioning it, according to The Atlantic.

President Trump has brought a reality-show accessibility to a once-aloof presidency, invigorating voters who felt alienated by the establishment

— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 31, 2017

For Trump, the most favorable interpretation of the word "genius" might be along the lines of what members of exclusive organization Mensa—not talking about Trump, just commenting broadly—told Nautilus. They didn't think there was just one kind of genius, and that maybe one possible definition was someone who had "captured the imagination, done something groundbreaking."

Trump is frequently described, by himself as well as by others, as having done both those things. So under that definition—which makes no mention of intelligence—he could be a genius, spelling mistakes and preference for cable TV over literature aside. But then, so could a lot of people.

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