In the wake of Monday’s presidential debate — the first of three — much has been made about each candidate’s overall performance, with the general consensus being that Hillary Clinton crushed it and that Donald Trump… did not. Indeed, several Republican Senators described Donald Trump’s debate performance as “interesting” when asked about it by Huffington Post Congressional Reporter Laura Barron Lopez. They did this totally independently of each other, and I find that fact both hilarious and telling.
I mean, we've all been there. When your friend comes back from a date and says it was “interesting?” They’re never going out with that person again. When a casting director says your performance was “interesting?” You definitely didn’t get the part. When you tell your mom that her tuna casserole-Caesar salad hybrid dinner experiment is “interesting?” You’re trying not to throw up in your mouth. “Interesting” is the word you use when all others fail — the great equalizer, so to speak.
Of the senators Barron-Lopez asked about Trump's debate performance, three used the word “interesting”: Sen. John McCain of Arizona (yes, that John McCain) said, “I thought it was very interesting”; similarly, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said, “It was very interesting”; and Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska used the word “interesting” as well. Both McCain and Cornyn beat a hasty retreat immediately afterward, reports HuffPo; Fischer was the only one who elaborated further when asked. “It was a strong performance at the beginning; I think he missed some opportunities," she said. "For example, the cybersecurity question: I wish he would have asked Mrs. Clinton about her server and her emails and the issue we have there with security and dealing with that."
But while Fischer was willing to share what she meant by “interesting,” we’re left wondering about how the other two — and, indeed, anyone else (of which I’m sure there are many) who might describe Trump’s debate performance in the same way — view the word. After all, “Interesting” is one of the most powerful euphemisms out there, as well as one of the most elusive. It's capable of expressing both everything and nothing in just a few syllables. “Interesting” is the word you use when you’re not sure what else to say. “Interesting” is the word you use when you’re unhappy, but don’t want to anger anyone else with your unhappiness. “Interesting” is the word you use when you want to relieve yourself of bearing the burden of responsibility for how someone else might interpret what you meant.
So, since no answers are forthcoming, I’ve been forced to fill in the blanks on my own. Here are a few possible definitions of “interesting” when used as a descriptor of Donald Trump’s showing during the first presidential debate.
1. “Not Dull Or Boring”
Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition of “interesting” is “not dull or boring.” That's certainly accurate, both here and with regards to the 2016 election as a whole; they have each been many things, but neither dull nor boring are among them.
“Interesting” is vagueness incarnate.
3. Kind Of Weird
As Kate Woodford wrote in a post on the Oxford Dictionaries blog in 2015, we often rely on “interesting” when we’re asked to provide an opinion on “something… that we find strange or ugly.” Used in this situation, "interesting” isn’t exactly a lie, but it’s also less likely to cause offense than, “Honestly, Donald was so far out there that I’m a little surprised SETI didn't launch an investigation into the matter."
4. Pure Chaos
First things first: The phrase “May you live in interesting times” isn’t actually an ancient Chinese curse, no matter how frequently “common knowledge” tries to convince you it is. There’s no evidence that supports this so-called fact, and it’s more than a little problematic that it keeps circulating anyway.
Even as an apocryphal English saying, however, “May you live in interesting times” remains the subtle burn of choice for many, with “interesting times” meaning roughly, “the most chaotic and awful circumstances that anyone has ever lived through, ever.”
5. Like An Episode Of Laugh-In
Comedian Arte Johnson’s character Wolfgang on the television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In cemented the phrase “Veeeeeeery iiiiiiiinteresting” in our cultural lexicon during the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s perhaps understandable that one might mistake Trump during the debate for an aging comedy show.
6. What Donald Trump Considers His Own Speeches To Be
On June 7, Trump announced, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things [which] have taken place with the Clintons. And I think you’re going to find it very, very interesting.” There's safety in echoing someone's own words back to them.
A Johnson column which ran on The Economist’s website in 2011 deals with British euphemisms. According to this column, when a British person says something is “very interesting,” what they typically mean is “I don’t agree” or “I don’t believe you.” What’s often understood by non-Brits who hear the phrase "very interesting," though, is that the person who uttered it is impressed. If that isn’t the quintessential example of the great disconnect between words and meaning, I don’t know what is.
8. “An Ugly Baby”
On a page hosted on the Capital Community College website geared towards identifying words no one should ever use in their writing, the entry for “interesting” reads, “One of the least interesting words in English, the word you use to describe an ugly baby.”
Admittedly I’m not entirely sure this one is grammatically correct in this context — but regardless, I will take the mental image of John McCain describing Trump’s debate performance as “I thought it was a very ugly baby” over “I thought it was very interesting” any day.
Images: Giphy (7)