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.)
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