[Ads-l] WSJ:Attention, America: We=?UTF-8?Q?=E2=80=99ve_?=All Been Saying Gerrymander Wrong
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Fri May 25 22:22:29 EDT 2018
Attention, America: We’ve All Been Saying Gerrymander WrongElbridge Gerry,
the New England politician whose political map inspired a cartoon,
pronounced his name with a hard G
Gerrymandering: You're Saying It Wrong!
The word "Gerrymander" was actually named after someone — Elbridge Gerry.
But the politician pronounced his name with a hard G, as in Gary. Photo:
Library of Congress
Reid J. Epstein and
May 24, 2018 12:06 p.m. ET
Two hundred years after a cartoonist used Elbridge Gerry’s name to skewer
political cartography, Mr. Gerry’s descendants think it’s time people start
pronouncing it right.
The issue is whether to say “gerrymander” with a soft G, the way nearly
everybody does, or with a hard G as in Gary—the way Mr. Gerry himself did.
[image: It’s Mr. Gerry, not Mr. Jerry]
It’s Mr. Gerry, not Mr. Jerry
“I correct people, every time,” said Elbridge T. Gerry Jr. , a limited
partner at Brown Brothers Harriman and great-great-great-grandson of the
late New England politician. “Then I give them a little history lesson.”
The first Elbridge Gerry signed the Declaration of Independence, was an
important figure in adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution and ended
his career as vice president to James Madison.
He’s not remembered for any of that. Instead, his name is indelibly linked
to the drawing of political districts for partisan advantage in 1812 when
he was governor of Massachusetts.
With two gerrymandering cases currently before the Supreme Court
plus scores of Democratic candidates dedicated to winning legislative
away from Republicans, Mr. Gerry’s legacy is receiving more attention than
it had in decades.
[image: Elbridge T. Gerry Jr. and Kitty Gerry]
Elbridge T. Gerry Jr. and Kitty Gerry PHOTO:SYLVAIN GABOURY/PATRICK
To his descendants, a soft-G gerrymander is like hearing fingernails on a
chalkboard. They write to dictionaries asking for corrections, inform
strangers of their linguistic error and grow annoyed when telemarketers
call to ask for Mr. Gerry with a soft G.
“Think of the letters,” said Ronald Gerry, a retired insurance salesman in
Stony Brook, N.Y., who is a descendant. “Gerry—it has a hard G. Jerry
sounds like a J.”
[image: Ronald Gerry, a hard G evangelist.]
Ronald Gerry, a hard G evangelist. PHOTO:MADELINE MARSHALL/THE WALL STREET
Mr. Gerry, 74 years old, takes his morning coffee at the local fire station
where he volunteers. With redistricting coming up a lot in political
discussions lately, he finds himself correcting other firefighters’ speech.
“They end up pronouncing it the way I tell ’em to,” he said. “They don’t
fall back. Because I do it with authority.”
There is little question of the soft G’s dominance. During Supreme Court
oral arguments in two redistricting cases since October, eight of the nine
justices used the soft-G. (Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t speak.) Former
Attorney General Eric Holder, who leads a Democratic organization dedicated
to stamping out GOP-drawn gerrymanders, uses the soft G.
<https://www.youtube/?mod=article_inline> So does former President Barack
It wasn’t always this way. In January 1812, Mr. Gerry, a
Democratic-Republican, and his party held majorities in the Massachusetts
legislature. With the 1810 census in hand, lawmakers drew state senate
districts designed to keep the opposition Federalists in minority status.
In protest, the Boston Gazette, a Federalist newspaper that strenuously
opposed Mr. Gerry, published a cartoon morphing an Essex County senate
district onto a winged and clawed salamander. Headline: “The Gerry-mander.
a new species of Monster.”
The resulting outcry cost Mr. Gerry re-election later that year, but the
Democratic-Republicans retained a majority in the state senate thanks to
the map he had signed off on.
[image: The Gerry-mander cartoon, showing towns north of Boston.]
The Gerry-mander cartoon, showing towns north of Boston. PHOTO: BETTMANN
Massachusetts lawmakers were hardly the first to benefit from skewed
political lines. In England, some House of Commons districts that included
only a tiny number of voters were known as “rotten boroughs” until an 1832
reform ended the practice. Before the first congressional election in 1788,
Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry drew a U.S. House district to separate James
Madison from his supporters, in an attempt to keep his fellow Founding
Father from Congress.
Mr. Gerry “just had the misfortune of antagonizing an editor,” said
Jonathan Katz, a California Institute of Technology professor and co-author
of a book on political redistricting called “Elbridge Gerry’s Salamander.”
The debate over how to say the word he spawned dates to at least 1850. John
Pettit, a delegate to the Indiana state constitutional convention, argued
for forbidding elected officials to draw boundaries for their own districts.
“You are constantly gerrymandering the State, or jerrymandering, as I
maintain the word should be pronounced, the g being soft,” Mr. Pettit said,
according to the Report of the Debates and Proceedings of the Convention
for the Revision of the Constitution of the State of Indiana.
GERRYMANDERING: THE GAME!
WELCOME TO STATESOTA
The state is evenly split between voters from the Purple and Yellow
parties. Ideally, candidates from either would have a fair shot at winning.
Can you create three districts with an even number of purple and yellow
voters in each one?
In an era of print-only media, Americans in distant locales had to guess
how to pronounce words new to the language, said Grant Barrett, who hosts a
public radio podcast called “A Way With Words.”
Mr. Barrett said the soft-G gerrymander gained traction because it looked
similar to other words that began with G and E, such as gentile. “Prior to
radio, you kind of winged it.”
In a 2014 episode of “Jeopardy!,” Alex Trebek gave contestant Arthur Chu
credit for answering a clue about Elbridge Gerry even though he said his
name with the soft G.
“That’s pronounced Gerry,” Mr. Trebek said, with the hard G. “It’s Elbridge
“Well, the gerrymander,” Mr. Chu interrupted, with a soft G.
“I know,” Mr. Trebek replied. “That’s one of those weird things about our
Remaining hard-G adherents are devoted to the cause. They include the
grandmother of comedian John Mulaney, as he explained in a February
appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers. ”
Mr. Mulaney said he told his grandmother, who lives in Mr. Gerry’s hometown
of Marblehead, Mass., that “everyone, and I mean everyone, says
gerrymander” with a soft G.
“She said, ‘Everyone is wrong.’ ”
The last prominent hard-G man in American politics was Ronald Reagan.
“There’s a term called gerrymandering,” Mr. Reagan told David Brinkley in
the final televised interview of his presidency in 1988, using the hard G.
“Some people say ‘Jerry,’ but it was ‘Gerry,’ G-E-R-R-Y.”
Barry Burden, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Elections Research
Center <http://quotes.wsj.com/Election> , finds his students and fellow
academics puzzled when he uses the hard G in speeches and lectures.
“Sometimes a person will ask, ‘What word did you just say? What is that
word?’” Mr. Burden said.
His efforts to spread the hard-G gospel haven’t gone well.
“I’ve had close to zero converts,” he said. “My battle might have been
easier 10 years ago when the public wasn’t paying attention to this issue.”
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