Trump “Tells” All

(updated 17 Apr. 2018)

A “tell” in poker lingo is a revealing, unconscious characteristic, predicting what a player might do based on a brief sample of observation.

After careful analytic study into the nature of micro expressions and body communication, worthy of academic giants Ray Birdwhistell and Paul Ekman, we have positively identified 11, er, 12 verbal red flags, or “tells” to know when Donald Trump is lying.

  1. “Believe me…” (a red flag when anyone uses this phrase unless they’re trying to persuade you not to jump into a wild animal’s cage)
  2. “Trust me…”
  3. “Sad!”
  4. “!”
  5. “winning”
  6. “I heard…” (which seems to be 45’s main source of information, after Fox & Friends). DJT used this for the 9/11 Arab tailgate partying he thought he saw, the inauguration crowd, the margin of victory in electoral college votes, among others.
  7. David Dennison*
  8. Anything involving counting things
  9. “That, I can tell you…” (as in “You don’t learn that much from tax returns.” 26 Sept. 2016)
  10. “Just found out…” (e.g., that Obama had Trump’s “wires tapped.”
  11. “If you want to know the truth.” (a lame phrase under any circumstances, in this case, refers to Trump believing what Putin says about not interfering U.S. election results: “I think he is very insulted by it.” 11 Nov. 2017)
  12. “People don’t know this…” I just heard this one in an interview with linguistics professor John McWhorter, who points out that it really means “I just learned this thing myself.” In other words, if Trump just learned something, he believes that people in general never knew it.** Eg., “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.” (27 Feb. 2017)

* Pseudonym for Trump in a 2016 non-disclosure agreement with Stormy Daniels
** MSNBC, 11th Hour: Brian Williams interview with John McWhorter, Columbia University linguistics professor and host of  Slate‘s Lexicon Valley podcast. You can listen to the full 7½-minute discussion here. I don’t entirely agree with some of McWhorter’s theories about Sapir-Whorf but this interview is a fascinating look at Trump’s “oddly adolescent” language style.
In poker, possible tells include leaning forward or back, placing chips with more or less force, fidgeting, doing chip tricks, displaying nervous tics or making any changes in one’s breathing, tone of voice, facial expressions, direction of gaze or in one’s actions with the cards, chips, cigarettes or drinks.
See also Herzenstein, Matthew. The Tell. Basic Books, 2013.

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