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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Sep 10, 2006 11:08 pm

• gerrymander •

Pronunciation: je-ri-mæn-dêr • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To divide up political districts so that as many as possible contain a large concentration of supporters of the current majority party and a small concentration of voters for the minority party.

Notes: Today's word pervades the news whenever a new census appears showing a shift of population requiring a change in the lines determining the current political districts. The political party in power seizes the opportunity to redistrict the territory so that more supporters of that party are included in the new districts. This word is occasionally used as a noun meaning "a representative of a gerrymandered district" or "a gerrymandered district".

In Play: The meaning of today's word is so narrow, it is difficult to find an application outside the political arena: "Most of the voting districts in the US states have been gerrymandered so many times that they give the appearance of a reptile zoo." But any word may be used metaphorically and this one is no exception: "Let's keep alert during the restructuring of the company and see if we can't gerrymander more personnel and office space into our department."

Word History: In 1812, the US portrait painter, Gilbert Stuart, known for his portraits of the great US presidents, noticed a map in a newspaper office. The map showed a voting district that had been created by the Democratically dominated Massachusetts Assembly when Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) was governor. The district had a peculiar shape that assured that any election in that district would favor the Democrats. Stuart drew eyes, claws, and wings on the outline of the district because it looked like a salamander. Someone in the office watched him and blended Gerry with salamander on the spot to create the portmanteau word, gerrymander which survived to this today. (A tip of Dr. Goodword's hat to Scott Simons, a proud West Virginian, for suggesting today's Good Word.)
Last edited by Dr. Goodword on Mon Sep 11, 2006 7:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Palewriter » Mon Sep 11, 2006 2:11 am

Lucky Elbridge Gerry's name wasn't Elbridge Peabody or something. Peabodymandering wouldn't quite have the same ring to it.

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Postby Perry » Mon Sep 11, 2006 7:32 am

(A tip of Dr. Language's stethoscope to Scott Simons, a proud West Virginian.)

Oops! It seems the good Dr. Beard forgot his new nom de plume today.
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Postby Bailey » Mon Sep 11, 2006 9:24 am

Perhaps, after all those years as Dr. Language he still thinks of himself thus, rather that his newer AKA.

mark who-is-neither-mark-nor Bailey
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Mon Sep 11, 2006 8:53 pm

I'm getting used to Dr. Goodword but the original nom de plume pops out intuitively sometimes when I'm in the throes of chiseling out a Good Word.

Another point about gerrymander that several subscribers have brought up in e-mail is that Gerry pronounced his name with a hard G, like Gary. The word was originally pronounced that way the the OED still lists it as the basic pronunciation.

However, the G has long since softened and even in Britain it is generally pronounced as we say in today's Good word.
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