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Words matter.

And from the moment he became president, Donald J. Trump has unleashed so many of consequence that the public has barely had time to parse their full implication. Words about the dishonest media, the end of Obamacare, the construction of that border wall with Mexico — this is an abbreviated list, and he hasn’t even completed his first week in office.

Amid the verbal deluge, President Trump this week repeated an assertion he made shortly after his election: that millions of ballots cast illegally by undocumented immigrants cost him the popular vote. If true, this would suggest the wholesale corruption of American democracy.

Not to worry: As far as anyone knows, the president’s assertion is akin to saying that millions of unicorns also voted illegally.

But such a baseless statement by a president challenged the news media to find the precise words to describe it. This will be a recurring challenge, given President Trump’s habit of speaking in sales-pitch hyperbole and his tendency to deride any less-than-flattering report as “fake news.”

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 Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to President Trump, used the phrase “alternative facts” to describe assertions by the White House. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

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