Now that Newt Gingrich has jumped to the top of the Republican presidential polls, it’s time to confront the issue of Newt's name.
Like Bill Clinton, Gingrich took the last name of his step father, though he kept his biological father’s first name, which was Newton. It is unclear when he became known as “Newt.” But it is that transformation that is now inspiring certain diminutives, sobriquets, and pejoratives. Cable television hosts, for example, are calling the former congressman and speaker of the house, “the Newtster” or referring to him as a kind of political salamander.
The position of speaker, which Gingrich held from 1995 to 1999, is second in the order of presidential succession behind the vice president, so using these terms to describe such a lofty person is, well, despicable. Nobody publicly called President Grant a drunk while he was in office. President Harding, a gambler and fraud monger, was dissed most often for preferring golf to governing. And former vice president and Maryland governor Spiro Agnew, who was jailed for corruption, was never called Mr. X, though he was an ex-vice president, an ex-governor, and an ex-con.
But there is something about the name Newt that draws malicious attention. It is true that a newt is a kind of salamander, a slippery creature that lives in muddy environments. And Newt sounds like a linguistically strange construction used in a folksy southern patois, like: “I newt the boy’d turn out t'be sum-un ‘portant.” It may just be impossible to retain an aura of seriousness when calling Newt Newt.
Of course, playing around with someone's name can be hurtful, even though it amuses some people. But exploring the various permutations of a name can also be instructive, providing clues to the intentions of people using the name and the person who owns it. The following examples are presented in that spirit.
Newter: Removing the private parts of a male dog; sometimes used as an analogy for emasculating one’s political enemies.
Newtral: A synonym for non-partisan; equal to being cast into hell.
Newtrino: A weakly interacting subatomic particle. Also an Italian term for “small neutral one,” used originally in Dante’s Inferno.
Newtron star: A remnant of a collapsed massive star prevented from complete disintegration by quantum degeneracy.
Newtrition: Unexplained girth, usually the result of pontificating while eating.
Newtria: A large rodent similar to a beaver.
Newtnik: An annoying bore or crank.