On May 31, President Trump made a mysterious Tweet, now removed, that used the non-word “covfefe”.
Trump Tweeted “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”. Here is a copy of the Tweet.
The Tweet led countless hours of speculation as to what Trump was attempting to type. The Verge reported Donald Trump’s cryptic covfefe tweet brought out the best in Twitter.
One person bought a covfefe license plate.
That was retweeted 20,942 times with 97,283 likes.
On June 2, CNN Tweeted “Drivers in at least 21 states rushed to get COVFEFE license plates before this meme runs out of gas.”
In a search I typed just today, Google still cannot make sense out of covfefe, suggesting I meant coffee. Nonetheless, Google managed to display an assortment of covfefe items for sale.
Covfefe the Cat
New Low for Trump
Instead of making fun over the Tweet, Slate writer Ben Mathis-Lilley managed to get upset. Mathis-Lilley wrote Trump Administration Announces Today’s New Low.
At Wednesday afternoon’s press conference, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that “The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant” by covfefe. This reads like a joke, but if you listen to the audio—the press conference was audio-only—Spicer sounds extremely, deadly serious and angry:
Has Spicer now been ordered by the notoriously reality-averse president to sincerely claim that covfefe is an actual thing? Is he joking about it, but doing it badly? Speaking earnestly, but only out of deranged personal resentment toward facts-obsessed reporters and other “elites”? And am I seriously spending mental energy thinking about this that I could be using instead on literally any other activity, such as scrolling through the Google Image results for “pizza”? Apparently I am!
A “new low” really?
I Know, But I Ain’t Tellen
Although Trump deleted the covfefe Tweet, he failed to delete his “figure it out” Tweet.
In case that gets deleted too, I save the image for posterity.
Trump and Spicer know what Trump meant, but they won’t tell. We have to figure it out.
Salil Mehta at Statistical Ideas believes he has solved the mystery.
Mehta pinged me yesterday with his post, Constant Negative Press Covfefe.
Mehta used character substitution analysis, foreign word analysis, autofill words analysis, and something I believe no one else did: Analyze Trump’s Word Choice History.
The autocomplete feature of modern operating systems look at a small amount of information and derive “predictions” as to what one likely meant. Like a sorted market basket analysis, we know for example that someone who starts to type in “cof” if likely headed to typing in “coffee” or “coffers”. Covfefe was never a word before, so auto-complete would never have automatically guessed at it, and instead would have proposed alternates such as “coffee” or “could”. Now that the President used that word anyway, an imminent attempt to type in “cov” or “cof” would result in “covfefe” being suggested as a possibility. These auto-complete models also incorporate ideas about what might make sense for the constructed clause and the expected small amount of fat-fingering (which similar to if covfefe really meant coffee, and then one auto-completes to coffee, would imply a more robust fat-fingering dataset to work with in the model for a given operating system).
The use of the word “coverage” works with the idea that it flows from a bias of what some merely think President Trump meant, while simultaneously anchoring on the first few letter of “covfefe”. Falsely assuming the mistype is completely at the end of the word only. This is a common problem with human guesses, since most do not consider that the mistype could have been anywhere at the start [the “c” could have easily been a “d” or a (space)]. It should be noted that the President, when mistyping, generally does so in a predictable way. Sadly, also revealing outstandingly poor spelling skills that make Dan Quayle look like a prodigy. Of course spelling is not everything, and clearly not reflective of his outstanding marketing and real estate skills.
Word choice history
Another approach to this problem is to consider the words that President Trump uses and hasn’t used. Analyzing this tweets (for the first time ever), reveals that while the President commonly uses the words “FAKE” and “media”, but rarely uses the word “press” and “coverage” (and essentially never in combination). Why should he have abruptly started here? This is part of the mystery.
A more comprehensive mathematical approach is to instead of starting with the dictionary and imagining what President Trump meant, start with the keystrokes and see how much re-arranging is necessary to create any other word. Hundreds of billions of possible scrambles of the code!
I tested out autocomplete on computers and phones and ran into a dead end. Coffee simply does not come up.
The start “cov” is not enough to generate anything and “covf” does nothing.
In his original article, Mehta posted this table that got me trying all sorts of things.
I could not get any single or double character transpositions that would arrive at 2 mistypes for “covered”. I pinged Mehta with these comments:
Not sure where you get 2 mistyped, I get 4 mistyped, but they are all in the same block of 4 characters!
Cov[f and e are keyboard-connected] [r and e are keyboard connected] [f and e are keyboard connected] [e and d are keyboard connected]
Covered does not make lingual sense (coverage does), but to someone with the linguistic ability of Trump, covered makes perfect sense. Covered also makes excellent keyboard mistyping sense (connected letters) with no extra letters and no missing letters. The “a” required in coverage is simply too far away.
I will link this back to you with keyboard images.
By the way (which amusingly I originally typed as “by the why”), how the heck do you get 2 mistyped. I get 4 consecutive mistyped.
Mehta meant to post this, now corrected in his article.
Standard Keyboard Detail
My computer keyboard is 18 inches. Two keys take up about 1.5 inches.
My phone keyboard is about 2.75 inches. Two keys take up about 0.5 inches.
Someone typing fast, especially if tired, impaired, or both could easily type covfefe instead of covered.
To explain four consecutive errors, Trump was typing in a hurry, from a cell phone, got interrupted, and hit send.
Although “coverage” makes more lingual sense than “covered”, it would also mean that Trump failed to type the “a”, and that is another two keys removed.
It is likely Trump meant to type something along the lines of “Despite the constant negative press covered, I was triumphant.”
In retrospect, if Trump was thinking ahead about Comey, this line makes perfect sense “Despite the constant negative press covered, I will be triumphant.”
Mike “Mish” Shedlock