Every now and then you come across some words with a very bizarre air about them. This peculiarity of appearance and at times that of meaning drives you to find out their etymologies. Perchance you may directly have an encounter with an anecdote about the origin of a word and it may so engross you that you learn the word and discuss about it with others as well. It happened with me because of the exquisite (no, hilarious!) etymology of this word. It means “To divide unfairly to one’s own advantage; especially by politicians”. This is one of those rare words which are bizarre looking as well as with a concrete etymology.
The first appearance of this singularly humorous and poignantly tart word was not in the present form ‘gerrymandering’ but rather in the form of a verb ‘gerrymander’, in 1812. It is actually a portmanteau of two words and this word in itself is a symbolic parody of political manipulation and corruption. The first part ‘Gerry’ comes from the name of Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry (1812) and the second bit comes from ‘salamander’ a fish. Gerry tried to manipulate the boundaries of some of his districts in order to help his party in upcoming senate election, but then, somebody observed that the new districts looked like a salamander and then they blended these two bits Gerry and –mander to create gerrymander. Newspapers came up with many cartoons where giant salamanders were mocking Gerry! Isn’t it an intriguing story worth being discussed with you?
Did you observe that Gerry is the dragon(salamander) in the picture, trying to devour the state!