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Cameron-Obama: A UK-US special relationship forged in syllables?

Ever since Winston Churchill coined the phrase 'special relationship' in 1945, the number of syllables in US presidents' and British premiers' names have often matched. Was David Cameron destined to become a three-syllable premier alongside Barack Obama?

By Correspondent / May 13, 2010

President Barack Obama (left) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington calls British Prime Minister David Cameron (right) at 10 Downing Street, in London, Tuesday.

(l.-r.) Charles Dharapak/AP, Andrew Parsons/Conservative Party/AP

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Reagan-Thatcher.

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Bush-Blair.

And now Obama-Cameron.

Whether or not the US president and newly elected UK premier will forge a “special relationship” as have past transatlantic leaders, Barack Obama and David Cameron already have one thing going for them: syllabic harmony.

Bush-Blair was a mono-syllable partnership; Thatcher-Reagan was a two-syllable collaboration; and Obama-Cameron is now the three-syllable match.

Nomenclature numerology?

Syllables as destiny?

Ever since Winston Churchill coined the phrase “special relationship” in 1945, a coincidence of surname syllables has occurred.

During 42 of the past 65 years – or some 65 percent of the time – both the US and UK had a leader with the same number of syllables in their last name.

But during the first 156 years of UK premiers and US presidents (starting with George Washington's first term in 1789), when a much higher percentage of American names actually had Anglo-Saxon roots, presidents' and premiers' syllables only coincided over 54 years, or about 35 percent. Leadership years overlap (for example, we've classified 2010 as a Cameron year, even though Brown held office the first four months), creating small a margin of error.

And when comparing the US with its Cold War enemy, Russia, over the past 65 years, syllables have coincided only 25 years, or about 38 percent of the time.

Transatlantic harmonic convergence

Between American and Britain there now exists a "harmonic convergence in the rhyming scheme of the names," Mark Blyth, a professor of political economy at Brown University, says sarcastically.

“It’s totally random,” he adds. “I’m not signing up to the new school of political analysis based upon syllables.”

And no one is suggesting that this is what Churchill meant when he started using the term.

“We should not abandon our special relationship with the United States and Canada about the atomic bomb and we should aid the United States to guard this weapon as a sacred trust for the maintenance of peace,” Churchill said in November 1945.

He used the phrase again in March 1946, more famously, in his so-called "Iron Curtain" speech in Missouri, saying: "Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States."

As Churchill said those words, Harry Truman’s presidency was coinciding with the UK leadership of Clement Attlee (and then Churchill), marking eight years of a two-syllable leadership on both sides of the Atlantic. The three-syllable (John F.) Kennedy presidency coincided with the (Harold) Macmillan and (Alec) Douglas-Home premierships.

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