What is "gravitas"?

Two viewers asked this question on 8/4/2000:

On TV talk shows, I often hear the word gravitas used. Can you tell me what it means?

JesseGordon gave this response on 8/17/2000:

The summary is:
Dick Cheney has gravitas.
Dan Quayle did not.

Gravitas means sufficient seriousness of purpose, sufficient experience in the real world of politics at the national and international levels, and sufficient reputation that other leaders will take you seriously.

The reason the word has been on TV a lot lately is because it was one of the primary reasons (I'd say) that Bush picked Cheney. Bush himself suffers from lack of gravitas -- he's a likable fellow, casual and friendly, but not the most serious player on the national scene, and unknown on the international scene. Hence he chose appropriately a running mate who filled in an important gap.

Bush Sr. chose Quayle for other reasons, since Bush Sr. himself DID have sufficient gravitas -- he was Vice President, and before that was ambassador to China and a Congressman. So he didn't need to balance the ticket with gravitas, so he chose based on youth, energy, and charisma instead.

Gore has gravitas too -- he's a very major player internationally and of course nationally. Hence he didn't need a V.P. with gravitas (although Lieberman has some).

Anonymous asked this question on 7/31/2000:

I have heard quite a few talking heads on TV state that Dick Cheney brings (gravatase) to the republican ticket. I know I spelled the word GRAVATASE incorrectly. Can you please tell me exactly what it means and also the correct spelling. Thanks a lot
Waipahu, Hawaii

madpol gave this response on 7/31/2000:

I hate when questions like this come in on Monday. The used bookstore downstairs is closed and I can't use their reference section.

The correct spelling is "gravitas." The word itself is Latin. It's a Roman thing. Seneca, and other writers of pompously wise advisory verse,(which is known as "Sententiae",) Valued the qualities of sobriety and seriousness in political candidates. The premise being that, if you act serious, people will take you seriously. It didn't work for Jimmy Carter, but Cheney seems to pull it off.

Cheney's experience in foreign policy and the inside workings of government provides a nice complement to Bush's charismatic, but lightweight image. In a time of serious infighting in Republican ranks, his loyalty to the Bush family,(he's been practically a family employee since the 80's,) makes him particularly attractive to Da Shrub.

Question answered by npscott in Politics

billr4299 asked this question on 8/4/2000:

On TV talk shows, I often hear the word gravitas used. Can you tell me what it means?

npscott gave this response on 8/4/2000:

Dear billr4299,

From Mirriam-Wesbter's on-line dictionary:

Main Entry: grav·i·tas
Pronunciation: 'gra-v&-"täs, -"tas
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin
Date: 1924: high seriousness (as in a person's bearing or in the treatment of a subject)

I suspect the hosts are suggesting the two major presidential candidates are over-serious.

npscott gave this follow-up answer on 8/5/2000:

PS Thanks to bill4299 for introducing me to a word I was unfamiliar with; and to colleague JesseGordon for educating me to the current usage of the word on the talk shows.

The nice thing about AskMe is that it is a learning exchange; and for the person asking a question, he's nearly always certain to "get the whole story" from all the answers given.

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