Vowels and consonants

The rumor that Andrew Cuomo is likely to become the next junior Senator from New York reminds me of the time, probably in 1991, when his father, Mario Cuomo, was considering a run for the Presidency. I remember someone saying that he had no chance — that Americans would not elect a President with more vowels than consonants in his name.

Of course, when Americans talk about vowels and consonants, they usually mean letters, not sounds. In fact, phonemically Cuomo is /kwomo/ and consequently has three consonants and two (identical) vowels (which are most often realized as diphthongs of some sort). But in common parlance “vowel” means one of the letters AEIOU and “consonant” means any other letter. And except for Monroe and Hoover, whose names have three of each (but in each case two of the vowel letters form a digraph), all other Presidents of the United States had surnames with more consonant letters than vowel letters.

At last, the pattern is broken. In Obama the vowels win, both phonemically and orthographically.

Update. The latest news is that the new Senator from New York will be Kirsten Gillibrand. The consonants win again!

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