Monday, April 9, 2012

Obamacare and Other Eponyms

President Obama’s opponents have used the word “Obamacare” so often to refer to the Affordable Health Care Act that Democrats have now adopted it as a badge of honor.  “We LOVE Obamacare” and “Honk If You [Heart] Obamacare” signs are cropping up to praise the measure that will provide health insurance to 32 million people who currently don’t have any.

Having one’s name attached to something like Obamacare--an idea, a place, a discovery, a time period, or any other item—is known as an eponym.  You can probably guess that it’s Greek in origin: “attached to” (epi) and “name” (onyma).

Obama is among a handful of Presidents of the United States whose names have assumed new life in coined words.  There’s “Reaganomics,” a term for supply-side, trickle-down theories of tax policy, the same policy that the first President Bush labeled “voodoo economics.”

President James Monroe survives in the term “Monroe Doctrine,” a foreign policy designed to keep Europe out of the Western Hemisphere.

To his annoyance, President Herbert Hoover was remembered throughout the Depression by the unemployed who lived in “Hoovervilles”—memorialized in the musical Annie in the number “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover.”

Probably the most famous Presidential eponym is the “Teddy Bear,” a still popular toy named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt after he indignantly refused to shoot a bear cub chained to a tree so as to make it easier to hit.  This was on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902, and by 1903 “Teddy’s Bear” was a popular toy item.

Of course, almost every President has had his name attached to a city, town, village, or wide place in the road—from Washington, D. C., to Tyler, Texas, to Van Buren, New York. Washington’s name graces both the nation’s capital and also a state.

Some Presidents’ names have survived in vague adjectives that have no specific meaning, but suggest an attitude, a philosophy, or a style: “Jeffersonian,” “Jacksonian,” “Lincolnesque,” “Wilsonian,” and “Kennedyesque” are the most frequent. 

And we mustn’t overlook “Bushisms”— malapropisms or nonsensical statements inadvertently uttered under the pressure of political speeches, to which President George W. Bush had an uncanny propensity.  Some of his most notable examples:
* “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”
* “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”
* "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."
* “They misunderestimated me.”
* “Our enemies…never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”
* ”There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."
* “I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being President."

The interesting thing about being the Bard of Buffalo Bayou is that he gets to publish nonsensical verses every week, even though no one actually reads them.  This week he accepts the challenge to use three Presidential eponyms in his drivel:

            O, send me somewhere,
            With Obamacare,
            Where the doctors don’t charge any fee,
            Where seldom is heard
            A Republican word,
            And the drugs on prescription are free.

            Yes, send me somewhere
            With a vin-ordinaire
            That’s as good as a sparkling champagne,
            Where only the comics
            Discuss Reaganomics
            And other such legerdemain.

            Please, send me somewhere
            With my old Teddy Bear,
            Where the beer and the cantaloupe spray,
            Where seldom is seen
            Fox News on the screen,
            And Rush Limbaugh has nothing to say.


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