Further to my question on the suitability of the word, heartland to “shout-out” in today’s New York Times’ article, “The Rough Rider and the Professor,” I have one more question about the usage of the word, “stemwinding.” In the following sentence, stemwind is used as a verb in the set phrase of “stemwind one’s way.”

"Roosevelt, who was born to Manhattan wealth but could be at his most passionate on behalf of the 99 percenters of a century ago, also spoke for about an hour in Osawatomie, stemwinding his way through what became known as the New Nationalism speech. It's worth remembering that he was no longer president at the time, but was mulling a challenge to his chosen successor, the malleable William Howard Taft."

As I found this usage interesting, I checked three dictionaries of OED, Cambridge and MW online dictionaries.

Cambridge doesn’t register neither ‘stemwind’ or ‘stemwinder’.

MW: registers stem winder as a noun meaning;

1.stem-winding watch

2[from the superiority of the stem-winding watch over the older key-wound watch]: one that is first-rate of its kind; especially: a stirring speech

OED registers ‘stemwinder’ as a noun meaning;

1 an entertaining and rousing speech: a stem-winder of a speech

2 dated a watch wound by turning a knob on the end of a stem.

However, there is no usage of “stemwind” and “stemwinder” is indicated in all three dictionaries.

Can ‘stemwind’ be used as a verb? Does the expression, “stemwind one’s way” pass as the normal way of saying barnstorming passionately / actively?

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    It's a US-only usage, which I've never come across, so I shouldn't really comment. But if NGram is anything to go by you probably shouldn't use the verb form. I expect most Brits would infer the meaning of the most common usage - "xxxx delivered a stemwinder of a speech." I don't know how many Americans would understand "President xxxx stemwound in the Senate yesterday", but I suspect very few Brits would. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '11 at 4:12

As FumbleFingers' comment suggests, stemwinder as a noun or adjective appears far more frequently than does stemwind as a verb. (Some noun and adjective examples appear in these discussions of the term stemwinder: Slate, 2004, refers to "Obama's stemwinder in Boston"; word-detective.com, 2011 mentions "a stemwinder in the old tradition from Hubert Humphrey"; worldwidewords.org, 2002, notes new sense of "long, interminable and boring"; theatlantic.com, 2000, delineates some variations like "a stemwinding speech" and "Ain't he a stem-winder?".)

When reading something a few weeks ago, I may have seen the term stem-winding applied to speeches that lay the groundwork for campaigns, plans, proposals, (that is, used in much the same way as the phrase "Winding the Clock") but have no reference for usage like that.

  • There’s big difference of implications of stemwinding between ME’s definition: first-rate of its kind, especially a stirring speech / OED’s definition: an entertaining and rousing speech, both of which are positive and worldwidewords. org.20002’s definition: long, interminable and boring, which is totally negative. I’m puzzled which definition would be congenial to the phrase, ‘Roosevelt’s “stemwinding his way through” the new Nationalism speech,’ in my question. – Yoichi Oishi Dec 9 '11 at 11:10
  • @YoichiOishi Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" speech probably was both entertaining and rousing; whether first-rate, I cannot say. A comment in a Senate article about Roosevelt says: "[Even when] the speech was nothing, ... the man's presence was everything. It was electrical, magnetic", which of course would lead to stirring speeches. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Dec 9 '11 at 20:06

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