The Prime Ministers, More or Less

By Puder, Jim | Word Ways, February 2005 | Go to article overview

The Prime Ministers, More or Less


Puder, Jim, Word Ways


The names of the American presidents have been transposed in various ways in at least three Word Ways articles, but to my knowledge no such attention has heretofore been accorded the names of their British counterparts, the prime ministers. To address this oversight, offered below is a table of metatransposals (i.e., transdeletions and transadditions) of British prime ministerial surnames similar to the one for the surnames of U.S. presidents offered in my August 1998 article, "The Presidents, More or Less."

If one begins the count with Robert Walpole--generally considered to have been the first true prime minister--51 individuals have now held that post. Subtracting one of the two Grenvilles in the list leaves a total of 50 different "surnames" for the table. (There is only one Pitt in it, as the elder Pitt is listed as the Earl of Chatham.) A complication with this group is that prior to the twentieth century, most prime ministers bore titles of nobility (often as a conferred honor) by which they were more often better known during their prime ministerships than by their personal names. In deciding which names, titular or personal, to use in the table, I have followed the listing of prime ministers given in Kenneth O. Morgan's The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain.

Here are my vocabulary rules: To be eligible for the table, a word or phrase must be a boldface entry in a major dictionary, or a reasonable inflection of such an entry. Not acceptable are words that are the plurals, inflections, or derivatives of an untransposed base name (thatchers, northern, vice-chamberlain, majority, lawyer, etc.). Also excluded, mainly for esthetic reasons, are proper nouns, transdeletions that delete more than a third of the letters in the base name, and transadditions that add more letters than there are letters in the base name.

In the following, all less-than-optimal metatransposals--those
that add or subtract more than one letter-are shown in
italics, with the number of letters added or subtracted
indicated in parentheses. W3 = Webster's Third; W2 = Webster's
Second.

Prime Minister       Transdeletion        Transaddition

Walpole              wallop               walloper W3
Wilmington           twinling (2) W2#     world-animating (4) W2#
Pelham               maple                helpmate (2) W3#
Newcastle            cleanest             sweet archangel (4) W3#
Devonshire           overshine W3         devil's-grandmother (7) W3#
Bute                 tub                  tuber
Grenville            reveling             revellings
Rockingham           charming (2)#        knight commander (S) W3#
Chatham              match (2)#           hatchman W3
Grafton              forgat W3            frontage
North                horn                 thorny
Shelburne            busheler W3          double-strength (5) W3#
Portland             portal (2)#          postprandial (4)#
Pitt                 tip                  petit W3
Addington            atoning (2)#         nodding catchfly (6) W3#
Perceval             cleaver              perceivable (3) W3#
Liverpool            overlie (2) W3#      overpotential (4) W3#
Canning              caning               enhancing (2)#
Goderich             chider (2)#          chowdering (2) W3#
Wellington           toweling W3          town-dwelling (2) OED#
Grey                 erg                  gyres
Melbourne            bemourn (2) W2#      double mordent (4) W3#
Peel                 lee                  sleep
Russell              rules (2)#           sulliers
Derby                bred                 breedy W3
Aberdeen             breaden W3           aberdevine (2) W3#
Palmerston           temporals W3         trampolines
Disraeli             sideral W3           side rails W3
Gladstone            longest (2)#         garden violets (4) W3#
Salisbury            burials (2)#         bushy-tailed rats (6) W3#
Rosebery             soberer              gooseberry (2) W3#
Balfour              flour (2)#           four-ball W3
Campbell-Bannerman
Asquith              quash (2)#           squattish (2) W3#
George               gorge                engorge
Law                  al W3                wall
Baldwin              bland (2)#           windable W2
MacDonald            calando (2) W3#      collared monad (4) W3#
Chamberlain          camel hair (2) W3#   climbing hydrangea (5) W3#
Churchill            church (3)#          chlorsulphonic (5) W2#
Attlee               elate                talented (2)#
Eden                 end                  needs
Macmillan            laminal (2) W3#      animalculum (2) W3#
Douglas-Home         doghouse (3)#        manganous chloride (6) W3#
Wilson               lions                lowings
Heath                hath                 health
Callaghan            gallach (2) W3#      pantographically (7) W3#
Thatcher             ratchet              hatcheter
Major                roam                 jorram W3
Blair                bail                 tribal

As can be seen, only the compound surname of Edwardian prime
minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman presently stands in the way
of the table's completion. 

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