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A.Word.A.Daywith Anu Garg
noun: A purposeless incompetent in public office.
After Alexander Throttlebottom, a Vice Presidential character in Of Thee I Sing, a 1931 musical comedy. Earliest documented use: 1932.
In honor of Presidents Day, this week we’ve been looking at words with presidential connections. It’s about time we paid our dues to Vice Presidents, too. VPs, by their very nature, are meant to play second fiddle though it’s not uncommon to find an eminence grise in that office. Here’s how the term throttlebottom came to represent VPs and other similar (mostly) harmless figures.
The first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize, Of Thee I Sing, is a brilliant political satire that gave us today’s word. In this masterly operetta (music: George Gershwin; lyrics: Ira Gershwin; libretto: George Kaufman and Morris Ryskind), presidential candidate John P. Wintergreen runs a political campaign based on the theme of love. His National Party sponsors a beauty contest, with Wintergreen to marry the winner. Instead, Wintergreen falls in love with Mary Turner, a secretary at the pageant, and marries her on the day of his inauguration. Diana Devereaux, the contest winner, sues President Wintergreen for breach of contract; France threatens to go to war, since Devereaux is of French descent; and Congress impeaches him. Wintergreen points out the United States Constitution provision that when the President is unable to perform his duty, the Vice President fulfills the obligations. VP Throttlebottom agrees to marry Diana and forever etches his name in the language.
“[Lyndon B. Johnson] wanted to be Vice President, both to position himself as JFK’s successor someday and because he believed that he could convert any job -- even Throttlebottom’s -- into a power base.”
James MacGregor Burns; The Crosswinds of Freedom; Knopf; 1989.
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:Avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. -George Washington, 1st US president, general (22 Feb 1732-1799)