Romney, the Curse of the Trochee

Eliot Weinberger

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.


  • 10 January 2012 at 11:12am
    semitone says:
    Mozzies, not muzzies.

    • 17 January 2012 at 9:58pm
      Gordon Kerry says: @ semitone
      Quite so: 'mozzies'. And Menzies was, by those in the know, pronounced 'Ming'. And who says Kerry is a loser...?

    • 19 January 2012 at 4:20pm
      semitone says: @ Gordon Kerry
      Not Gordon Kerry the composer, by any chance? Love your work.

    • 6 March 2012 at 11:16pm
      Gordon Kerry says: @ semitone
      Yes indeed. Sweet of you to say so.

  • 10 January 2012 at 1:18pm
    IanGFraser says:
    And all you need is the term for such a bloke in Aussie: he's certainly a "bikie"...

    • 10 January 2012 at 1:36pm
      semitone says: @ IanGFraser
      "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?

    • 12 January 2012 at 12:16am
      IanGFraser says: @ semitone
      Quite right about "Aussie" -- but I meant the country, not the lingo. (I wish the term for New Zealand was "Newzie"...but it isn't.)

      So let's work with the names they have. Wall Street is hand-in-Mitt with Romney!

    • 12 January 2012 at 10:35am
      semitone says: @ IanGFraser
      And John Hunt is a coward!

    • 14 January 2012 at 3:51pm
      IanGFraser says: @ semitone
      Whoa, rhyming slang is something else...!

    • 16 January 2012 at 10:37am
      semitone says: @ IanGFraser
      Just a spoonerism I once saw on a placard at a protest. But I was shocked to learn recently that "dropkick", which I always thought of as a fairly affectionate term for someone who was a bit of a wally, or clumsy or silly, is actually rhyming slang (as in "dropkick and punt").

    • 17 January 2012 at 11:12am
      IanGFraser says: @ semitone
      Ah well. Origin isn't meaning, right? (I testify to that...)

  • 10 January 2012 at 3:05pm
    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.

  • 10 January 2012 at 3:18pm
    outofdate says:
    Nixon. Carter. Not much of a scanner, are you, whoever wrote the headline.

    • 10 January 2012 at 8:23pm
      Bob Beck says: @ outofdate
      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.

  • 10 January 2012 at 4:09pm
    shoshana says:
    You read it here first:

  • 10 January 2012 at 4:53pm
    Phil Edwards says:
    Attlee was more of a spondee (At Lee, not Attly).

    • 10 January 2012 at 8:41pm
      Bob Beck says: @ Phil Edwards
      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.

  • 10 January 2012 at 10:51pm
    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').

  • 11 January 2012 at 1:35pm
    Eddie 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).

  • 13 January 2012 at 10:09pm
    Martin says:
    Maybe not presidential, but Elvis was King.

    • 13 January 2012 at 10:29pm
      Bob Beck says: @ Martin
      Yes, but "was"?

      "Why, Elvis didn't die, son, he just went home!"

    • 14 January 2012 at 12:30pm
      Martin says: @ Bob Beck
      Whoops! Sorry.

    • 14 January 2012 at 7:29pm
      Bob Beck says: @ Martin
      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."

Read more