Word: gerrymander

Pronunciation: JE-ree-man-dər

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Today’s Word of the Week was suggested by my dad, an intelligent man with a keen interest in politics. Anyone following the political news in the USA has probably been hearing a lot of the word “gerrymandering” lately. Some of you may already be familiar with this word, but to those of you wondering what in the world it means, I understand how you feel. I admit I don’t care very much for politics, so when I first heard talk of “gerrymandering” happening in the American government, I took it as an opportunity to learn a new word. What I found upon doing research was much more than a simple definition, but an interesting backstory to go with it…

GerryMander Cartoon“Gerrymander” (often used as the noun “gerrymandering”) means to establish a political edge by creating partisan-advantaged districts through manipulation of boundaries. The word was coined from a political cartoon printed in 1812 (shown right), satirizing the redrawn Massachusetts election districts under Governor Elbridge Gerry, which when mapped out, resembled the shape of the mythical salamander. Since the first printing of the term “Gerry-mander” (originally pronounced GE-ree-man-dər) as a reference to the advantage Governor Gerry gained for his party after redistricting the state, the word was officially included in the English language in 1848 and remains in use today.

Since I don’t want to spark a political debate, I’ll leave opinions on the word’s most recent uses entirely up to you. What I can say, however, is that its references to a disproportion in power definitely give “gerrymander” a negative connotation. Though it’s a good word to know, its uses are obviously limited to very specific contexts. So if you write political thrillers, you’ll certainly be able to get much more use out of it than I ever will. Be sure to keep “gerrymandering” in mind if your characters are politicians!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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