If you're like me, you probably thought this was an ancient custom, going back to the days when Germanicus used to tromp around Germania. Or something.
Well, it probably did, given human nature, but the name is much more recent than that. "Gerrymandering" has no ancient etymology. It takes its name from one Elbridge Gerry, who happened to be governor of Massachusetts in 1812 and signed a bill that allowed redistricting that favored the Democrats against the Federalists. His critics made fun of the district that was in fact created, saying that it looked like a salamander. So to gerrymander is a portmanteau word--gerry plus salamander becomes gerrymander.
|A vulture here, but a salamander to others.|
Can I just say quickly here how refreshing it is for a change not to have to go back to Middle English and then Middle French and so on to find a word's derivation?
Gerry is reported to have only reluctantly signed the bill into law, but his name got attached to it anyway. His name is said to have been pronounced Gary, but gerrymander usually is pronounced Jerry-. If he wasn't proud of his act, it's probably just as well. He didn't make out too badly from the tactic. Elbridge Thomas Gerry became the fifth vice-president of the United States.
Now a really sort of odd thing happened around this. And I think Kathleen, if she's reading along here, will appreciate it. I typed out the beginning of this a couple of nights ago, and then thought I'd leave it lie a day. The next morning I got up and with the time change it was pretty dark still. I was all set to take a shower when I looked at the tub and saw a creature sitting there on the rim of the tub. It was a salamander. Admittedly, at the time, I didn't think 'salamander' or make any connection to this blog at all. I thought 'Lizard!' and I was a little freaked out because it was so still that I thought it might be dead. But no, it is was a Santa Cruz Black Salamander, as I discovered later. It was very much alive, because it took the opportunity to duck back into a crack as soon as I had the decency to turn out the light.
I never knew of the existence of the Santa Cruz Black Salamander until now. One of my naturalist friends says she has usually only seen them smashed on the road. Despite my freak out, it was very nice of the cute little thing to pay me a visit on the morning after I researched this post. And it was actually pretty nice of it to make its presence known before I got in the shower...