Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Another New Word

Awhile back I shared that my vocabulary is increasing because of circumstances that are new in my life but apparently have affected the generations before me. That's why there are already words for them. Well, now in addition to kakistocracy and antinomian I have gerrymander. What is that, you say? Let us turn again to It means "To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections." Surely you know where this is going. Straight to Texas. The steamroller of the Grand Old Party has struck again.

In case you would like to know the origin of gerrymander, tells us: A gerrymander sounds like a strange political beast, which it is, considered from a historical perspective. This beast was named by combining the word salamander, a small lizardlike amphibian, with the last name of Elbridge Gerry, a former governor of Massachusettsa state noted for its varied, often colorful political fauna. Gerry (whose name, incidentally, was pronounced with a hard g, though gerrymander is now commonly pronounced with a soft g) was immortalized in this word because an election district created by members of his party in 1812 looked like a salamander. According to one version of gerrymander's coining, the shape of the district attracted the eye of the painter Gilbert Stuart, who noticed it on a map in a newspaper editor's office. Stuart decorated the outline of the district with a head, wings, and claws and then said to the editor, That will do for a salamander! Gerrymander! came the reply. The word is first recorded in April 1812 in reference to the creature or its caricature, but it soon came to mean not only the action of shaping a district to gain political advantage but also any representative elected from such a district by that method. Within the same year gerrymander was also recorded as a verb.

Everything old is new again. And I'm not sure I like it.

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