« | Home | »

Romney, the Curse of the Trochee

Tags: |

There are many reasons Mitt Romney will never be elected president. These include, in descending order of importance: 1) He is a Mormon who wears funny underwear. 2) On a family vacation, he drove for many hours with his dog, Seamus, strapped to the roof of his SUV. 3) He is a stuffed shirt, full of ‘pious baloney’, as the incomparable Newt recently put it. 4) He has been on both sides of every issue, while denying that he ever held the opposing view.

But what will sink Romney is his last name. Americans do not find two-syllable names ending with a long e presidential. They are associated with diminutives and baby-talk and lack the requisite gravitas. American history is littered with these losers: Pinckney (1796); another Pinckney (1800, 1804, 1808); Birney (1844); Greeley (1872); Woolley (1900); Hanly (1916); Wilkie (1940); Dewey (1944, 1948); Humphrey (1968); Kerry (2004). The list of those who failed to be even nominated is much longer, including Ed Muskie and Mitt’s dad George. There has never been a baby-trochee president. (Three syllables, however, like Kennedy, evade the curse.)

Elsewhere in the Anglophone world, Canada has never had one for prime minister. Britain has had only one: Attlee. (With Arthur Wellesley, in the 1830s, an iffy case: the name looks like three syllables and he was known as the Duke of Wellington.) Australia, despite its predilection for baby-talk – where else do you see burly men, covered in tattoos, with shaved heads and foot-long beards, say things like ‘The muzzies are biting, let’s get some stubbies and go watch some footy on the telly’? – has had only one: Chifley, in the 1940s. (The long-running Robert Menzies had an s at the end.) New Zealand has had one: the double baby-trochee Jenny Shipley – though as a woman she avoids the associations of emasculation.

Obama – whom Romney calls both a ‘socialist’ and a ‘crony capitalist’, proving that he is not a Kenyan Muslim, as the Tea Party keeps insisting, but a mainland Chinese – is the luckiest guy on earth. An old-fashioned conservative of the Bush Sr ilk might have easily defeated him. But the Republican Party has been taken over by crazy people, ultra-right anarchists who could never win a national election. They may half-heartedly resign themselves to Romney, but this is not at all certain. And then the national obsession with presidential underwear – which began when Clinton actually answered the question ‘boxers or briefs?’ – will kick in. Wait till America sees the stars that Romney wears under his empty suit.

Comments on “Romney, the Curse of the Trochee”

  1. semitone says:

    Mozzies, not muzzies.

  2. IanGFraser says:

    And all you need is the term for such a bloke in Aussie: he’s certainly a “bikie”…

    • semitone says:

      “in Aussie” doesn’t really make sense. I’ve heard some Kiwis say “Aussie” when they mean Australia, but never heard anyone use it to mean the Australian language/dialect/slang, whatever: that would be “Strine”. And just to complete the pedantry, the bloke is unlikely to be a bikie: there’s isn’t much crossover between bikie culture and footy in Australia, and in any case he’s in his leathers so the mozzies aren’t going to bother him.

      But back on topic: strange days indeed when a guy called Mitt Romney has more trouble with the Romney than the Mitt bit. Honestly, Obama, Newt, Strom … why can’t US politicians have nice, normal first names, like Bill or George or Sarah?

  3. Geoff Roberts says:

    Where do Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon fit into this? They have nicely balanced two-syllable names, wore cowboy hats and used trochees in many of their speeches.

  4. outofdate says:

    Nixon. Carter. Not much of a scanner, are you, whoever wrote the headline.

    • Bob Beck says:

      Perhaps it should have been “the Curse of the e-Trochee,” though that sounds like a malevolent being from a fantasy novel. (Which description fits Romney, and most Republicans, pretty well).

      It’s true Canada hasn’t had a PM with a name like this, but we’ve hardly had the chance. Only one Opposition Leader could have qualified (Hugh Guthrie — I had to go to Wikipedia). But he was a Conservative early in the Liberal Party’s long run as Canada’s “natural governing party.” So probably Darwinian processes, rather than his name, kept him out of power.

  5. Phil Edwards says:

    Attlee was more of a spondee (At Lee, not Attly).

    • Bob Beck says:

      I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard Attlee’s name pronounced, or anyway pronounced by anyone British*, and would have guessed it was “Attly.”

      From the Old Habits Die Hard Department: an English colleague of mine, who’s been in North American probably fifteen years or so, the other day mentioned the singer Dionne Warwick, but pronounced her last name in the British* way (“WARrick”). So far as I know, she pronounces both w’s (WARwick).

      *shorthand of course for UKOGBANIan.

  6. Alvin Hackensack says:

    What about the Edward Stanley, 3 times PM in the 19th century? Sure, he became Earl of Derby in 1852, but he kept his Weinbergerian trochee (with terminal ‘EE’).

  7. stacemeister says:

    I think there is something to be said for Lord Salisbury being a “baby trochee”, if indeed there is such a measure. Indeed, it points up the difference between English readers (who would probably say “Sals-bree”) and Americans (who might say on the basis of its spelling, “Sal-is-berry”, or at best “Sorls – berry” – to the suppressed laughter of their English cousins).

  8. Martin says:

    Maybe not presidential, but Elvis was King.

    • Bob Beck says:

      Yes, but “was”?

      “Why, Elvis didn’t die, son, he just went home!”

        • Bob Beck says:

          That’s better.

          I once went to a panel discussion of CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) foreign correspondents. At the end, one question they were asked was: “Knowing what you know now, is there any story from your career you might have reported differently?”

          Patrick Brown, for many years now CBC’s chief correspondent in Asia, said: “Well, my first foreign story was Elvis Presley’s funeral back in 1977.” He gave it a beat, shrugged, then deadpanned: “What can I say? We all thought he was dead.”

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: And in Breakout, Parker, in prison, teams up with a black guy to escape; another white con dislikes it but accepts the necessity; Parker is absolutely...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement