’Gravitas” (Latin for “gravity,” or “weight” or “heaviness") is something many people look for in political leaders. It implies a certain seriousness and authoritativeness in demeanor and decision-making.
In November 1904 (see below), it was written that President Theodore Roosevelt lacked “gravitas.” The word “gravitas” was seldom used in politics, however, until the 1970s. “Gravitas” achieved a faddish popularity in the presidential election of 2000.
From Latin gravitās (“weight, heaviness”)
(RP, US): IPA: /ˈɡræ.vɪtɑːs/, RP: IPA: /ˈɡræv.ɪ.tæs/
1.Seriousness in bearing or manner; dignity.
2.(figuratively) substance, weight.
Frequently used in a jocular or stilted sense.
Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Definition of GRAVITAS
: high seriousness (as in a person’s bearing or in the treatment of a subject)
Examples of GRAVITAS
. The new leader has an air of gravitas that commands respect.
. a comic actress who lacks the gravitas for dramatic roles
. The new leader has a certain gravitas.
Origin of GRAVITAS
First Known Use: 1869
Gravitas (from Latin) is a quality of substance or depth of personality.
Gravitas (specifically dignity, seriousness, and duty) is one of the several virtues that ancient Roman society expected men to possess, along with pietas, dignitas, and iustitia.
“Gravitas” should not be confused with “gravity” in the sense of importance, although they have a common etymology, coming from the Latin for weightiness.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
1924 Manch. Guardian Weekly 10 Oct. 313 He never sheds a certain Roman gravitas.
1958 Spectator 30 May 698/2 A certain gravitas in the atmosphere of the Scottish universities.
1961 Times 2 Aug. 11/6 Its leading articles, and even its news coverage, will have a superb Victorian gravitas.
1961 Listener 30 Nov. 901/2 As for the Prime Minister [of Nigeria], to see him at close quarters is to recognize the true gravitas of the statesman.
1969 Ibid. 20 Mar. 376/2 Gravitas, the heavy tread of moral earnestness, becomes a bore if it is not accompanied by the light step of intelligence.
November 1904, Current Literature, pg. 406, col. 2:
But many of these have what President Roosevelt has not—namely, that noble old Roman virtue, gravitas. Honesty, intelligence, energy, willingness to discard untenable views are not enough, All these are admirable in a President, if along with them we find wisdom, breadth of vision, depth of insight, and that nameless something that enables a man to keep all his faculties in thorough control. It was these qualities that made Washington and Lincoln leaders of me.
14 February 1968, Hartford (CT) Courant, “Rockefeller Overrides Lindsay’s Decision” by Philip Wagner, pg. 26:
They are disturbed by indications of a certain frivolity and dilettantism, an absence of gravitas.
Google News Archive
18 July 1971, Reading (PA) Eagle, Parade magazine, pg. 15, col. 2:
“Our political leaders are learning that Sophocles was right: nothing that is vast enters into the affiars of mortals without a curse, and that vast American power has now produced its curse…
“What counts most in the long haul of adult life is not brilliance, or charisma, or derring-do, but rather the quality that the Romans called “gravitas”—patience, stamina, and weight of judgment...The prime virtue is courage, because it makes all other virtues possible.”—Highlights from the speech made by Eric Sevareid, CBS chief Washington correspondent, at the 80th Annual Stanford University Commencement, June 13, 1971.
Google News Archive
19 May 1973, Pittsburgh (PA) Press, “Watergate and World” by John P. Roche, pg. 10, col. 3:
What is at issue here is the extent to which Mr. Nixon can retrieve what the Romans would have called his “gravitas,” his right to be taken seriously as President.
Google News Archive
28 May 1974, Hendersonville (NC) Times-News, “A Word Edgewsie” by John P. Roche, pg. 2, col. 4:
What stunned me was the total absense of what the Romans called “gravitas,” that is, inherent dignity in the President of the United States.
Google News Archive
25 February 1976, The Age (Melbourne, Australia),"Cold test for White House runners” from Creighton Burns, pg. 9, col. 7:
Senator Bayh is a brilliantine politician—clean and shiny in his earnestness. he too has a certain boy scout charm.
But he lacks gravitas—the quality which compels serious attention.
Essay: The Gravitas Factor
By LANCE MORROW Monday, Mar. 14, 1988
Gravitas is a mystery, just as the presidency itself is something of a mystery. Gravitas is a secret of character and grasp and experience, a force in the eye, the voice, the bearing. Sometimes—as with, say, Winston Churchill—it announces itself as eloquence, and sometimes it proclaims itself as a silence, a suspension full of either menace or Zen. The Japanese believe a man’s gravitas emanates from densities of the unspoken.
Sicilians speak of a “man of respect,” a phrase suggesting, at its darkest reach, a gravitas that can not only hurt but even kill in order to enforce that respect. Gravitas is a phenomenon of power, but the forms and styles of power are various. Dictators are forever strutting the tinhorn’s impersonation of gravitas. Brute power is only one of the cruder types, and it is sometimes subdued by other forms: a moral gravitas, for example. Martin Luther King Jr. brought his gravitas to bear against men of power who were morally vacant. Gravitas may be aggression, but it may express itself otherwise, as something withheld, as a dignity and forbearance.
The Oxford Press
Gravitas fad may sink from its own weight
By MARLON MANUEL
Cox News Service
Monday, November 07, 2005
The word rolls off the tongue with a hint of Latin, an air of self-importance and a breeze of linguistic balderdash: gravitas.
Sightings of gravitas —a noun meaning weighty seriousness — have accelerated in recent weeks after President Bush’s Supreme Court nominations. John Roberts wielded gravitas; Harriet Miers did not.
The word swirled in the political vortex of 2000, as pundits mused whether Al Gore or George W. Bush possessed sufficient gravity for the White House. Use diminished in subsequent years (save for the 2002 elections) before reigniting during the 2004 presidential race – and has spread beyond political boundaries.
Rove says Palin lacks ‘gravitas’ for presidential run
Ex-senior Bush aide says upcoming Alaska reality TV show will hurt her chances
updated 10/27/2010 8:34:36 PM ET
Karl Rove told a British newspaper Wednesday that he has serious doubts about Sarah Palin’s viability as a presidential candidate.
The former senior adviser to George W. Bush told The Daily Telegraph of London that he questioned whether Americans thought the former Alaska governor had the “gravitas” for the “most demanding job in the world.”
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Thursday, November 04, 2010 • Permalink