Foe
Posted: 29 July 2018 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Trump and an interviewer recently repeatedly referred to organisations and countries that might be considered foes of America. Briton Stewart Lee pointed out that this made him sound like a medieval king which would be the impression in Britain. Why didn’t he say enemies? Does foe sound less ridiculous or have a different nuance in American English, for sooth? Maybe Trump thought it sounded less harsh and combative than enemy though it would have been translated as that in the languages of the parties he was offending.

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Posted: 29 July 2018 11:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It must be one of Trump’s “best” words. He said he knows the best words.

[ Edited: 30 July 2018 06:44 AM by Eyehawk ]
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Posted: 30 July 2018 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Foe doesn’t strike me as being the least bit unusual. I think it is used more to mean opponent rather than enemy. I searched for foe in Google News and of the 100 headline hits on the first page(my count was really 99, but 100 seems more likely so I probably missed one) only sixteen were about Mr. Trump’s latest utterance. Most were about sports rivalries and minor political races, plus a good number of commercial/business references - “Blue Apron Faces a Formidable New Foe: Chick-fil-A”. I’ll grant that headline use will lean more heavily toward foe rather than opponent due to space issues, but it’s still an everyday word, and enemy would seem inappropriate in most cases.

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Posted: 30 July 2018 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Maybe Trump thought it sounded less harsh and combative than enemy

Trump doesn’t think. And this is a case in point. Transcript of the interview:

JEFF GLOR: Who is your biggest competitor? Your biggest foe globally right now?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe. Russia is foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly they are a foe. But that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive.

Note, he didn’t choose the word. He was prompted by the CBS interviewer. (And in doing so, he failed Media Training 101: Never repeat a bad or leading question. Reframe it and answer in way that you want.)

In this particular case, I think the subsequent commentary has genuinely (and perhaps deliberately) misinterpreted what he said. The interviewer equated foe with competitor, and that’s how he answered it. Nor was the interviewer particularly off base (another baseball metaphor) in using the word. From the OED:

B.1.c. In weakened sense: an antagonist, an opponent.
1697 Dryden tr. Virgil Georgics ii, in tr. Virgil Wks. 94 The Groom..watches with a trip his Foe to foil. 
1795 Hints to Opposition: Let. to C. J. Fox 2 I am not of consequence enough to have either political friends, or political foes.
1870 W. Morris Earthly Paradise I. 133 Made happy that the foe the prize hath won.
1949 Charleroi (Pa.) Mail 23 Feb. 7/1 Lee nearly nailed his foe in the first round with a flurry of lefts.
1979 Whig-Standard (Kingston, Ont.) 2 Apr. 4/2 John Diefenbaker [sc. a politician] is 83 years old, but still a formidable foe.
2000 Sunday Mail (Brisbane) 5 Mar. 21/7 Old political foes Sir Jon Bjelke-Petersen and Peter Beattie have joined forces again.

Note the later cites are all from North America/Australia.

A more skilled politician wouldn’t have repeated the word, but Trump wasn’t calling the EU an enemy. At least not in this interview.

(I hate it when I have to defend Trump.)

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Posted: 10 August 2018 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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My 1951 COD has

foe, n. (poet. etc). Enemy, opponent, adversary. ill-wisher…

So it’s considered poetic usage in Britain (what did the COD mean by adding ’etc‘?) and I would say somewhat quaint along the lines of smite and vanquish. Is there no sense of this at all in AE? Even though Trump didn’t use the word first in the interview it looks like he latched onto it bigly, perhaps thinking it sounded eloquent and presidential. (Sadly, he never said ‘bigly’ just ‘big league’ fastly and indistinctly.) Foe could be enjoying new currency since Dungeons & Dragons and some video games. I’ve never heard anyone use it in speech in my country ever though it could have been used as newspaper headline shorthand as Bayaker pointed out.

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