Never put your John Hancock on a blank cheque

On a more serious note, American quadrennial Presidential campaigns and political discourse in their wake have proved to be quite a quarry for the English language.

Written by Amitabh Ranjan | New Delhi | Updated: May 17, 2015 3:54 pm
David Cameron, george bush, Gerrmymandering, US presidential elections, blogs, uk news, world news, george bush A commonly used word, gerrymander has an interesting etymology.

While David Cameron is back at 10, Downing Street, political pundits are looking for a hiding place. It appears that a few takeaways from our own election campaign last year have stood him in good stead, endearing him to the Indian community. Now, the focus will shift to another theatre – the US Presidential elections. Candidates have already started throwing their hats into the ring and sound bites emerging in the print.

We know how George W Bush’s campaigns and his years in the Oval Office threw up all kinds of faux pas, malapropisms and foot-in-mouth moments, giving rise to what is called Bushisms. But on a more serious note, American quadrennial Presidential campaigns and political discourse in their wake have proved to be quite a quarry for the English language. We look at some of the interesting ones. From a campaign slogan of the Republican Party as far back as 1928 has come the expression ‘chicken in every pot’, referring to a state of prosperity and security.

Egghead was used of Adlai E Stevenson who won the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1952 and has come to mean someone thought to be highly intelligent and learned, especially someone who is ‘self-satisfied and patronising’.

Backlash has its origin in the 1964 Presidential campaign and implies adverse reaction or resistance to something that has advanced the status of a certain group. This referred to the supposed reaction of white voters antagonistic to social gains by blacks.

Barnstorming (making appearances in rural areas on behalf of one’s candidacy or that of a fellow party member) and whistle-stop (brief appearance by a candidate at a town on the campaign trail) too are American coinages.

A commonly used word, gerrymander has an interesting etymology. It is a portmanteau for former governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry and salamander. The credit for coinage goes to editor Benjamin Russell in 1811 after the creation of a new voting district which was supposed to benefit Gerry’s party. The shape of the new district on the map appeared similar to that of a salamander. So, it has come to mean the division of a political unit into districts whose voting pattern will favour one party over another.

The first governor of Massachusetts too has lent his name to the English vocabulary. John Hancock had signed the Declaration of Independence first and with the largest and boldest of signatures. The name stands for a mildly jocular term for a signature.

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