ger·ry·man·der (jĕrē-măn′dər, gĕr-)
tr.v. ger·ry·man·dered, ger·ry·man·der·ing, ger·ry·man·ders
To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts in a way that gives one party an unfair advantage in elections.
1. The act, process, or an instance of gerrymandering.
2. A district or configuration of districts whose boundaries are very irregular due to gerrymandering.
[After Elbridge Gerry + (SALA)MANDER (from the shape of an election district created while Gerry was governor of Massachusetts).]
Word History: In 1812, as governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry signed a bill authorizing the revision of voting districts in his state. Members of Gerry's party redrew them in order to secure their representation in the state senate, and out of Gerry's home county, Essex County, they carved an unlikely-looking district with the shape of a salamander. According to one version of the coining of gerrymander, the shape of the district attracted the eye of the painter Gilbert Stuart, who noticed it on a map in a newspaper editor's office. Stuart decorated the outline of the district with a head, wings, and claws and then said to the editor, "That will do for a salamander!" "Gerrymander!" came the reply. The image created by Stuart first appeared in the March 26, 1812, edition of the Boston Gazette, where it was accompanied by the following title: The Gerrymander. A New Species of Monster, which appeared in the Essex South District in Jan. 1812. The new word gerrymander caught on instantly—within the same year gerrymander is also recorded as a verb. (Gerry's name, incidentally, was pronounced with a hard (g) sound, although the word which has immortalized him is now commonly pronounced with a soft (j) sound.) Gerry ran for reelection in 1812, and popular outrage directed at the flagrant use of the technique we now call gerrymandering doubtless played a role in his defeat.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.