Opinion | A Linguist’s Guide to Quid Pro Quo – By Steven Pinker – The New York Times


Dr. Pinker is a cognitive scientist.

“Two decades ago the impeachment of a president hinged on what the meaning of “is” is. This time it may depend on the semantics of “I would like you to do us a favor though.”

It would be bad enough if President Trump had merely expressed a desire to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, that he investigate bogus corruption and conspiracy rumors about Mr. Trump’s political rivals. But if the request was tendered as an enticement or threat that military equipment approved by Congress would be forthcoming only if Mr. Zelensky complied, it could rise to the level of “bribery, treason, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Even Mr. Trump, who is unrepentant about the request itself, acknowledges that a contingency would be incriminating. “There was no quid pro quo,” he has insisted. The lack of a quo for the quid has become a talking point among his defenders, like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who wrote on Twitter, “What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger.”

It’s true that the transcript of the reconstructed conversation does not reveal a smoking sentence with an “if” and a “then.” But to most readers, Mr. Trump’s claim that he was merely musing about his druthers does not pass the giggle test. That is because people in a social relationship rarely hammer out a deal in so many words but veil their offers in politeness and innuendo, counting on their hearers to listen between the lines.”

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