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I came across this phrase/sentence:

We Polked you in ’44, we shall Pierce you in ’52! Source

I googled "Polked" but all it gives me is "poked", so I had the crazy thought that it might be the joining of the words "poll" AND "poked" as a way of saying "We in poll poked (f**ked) you."

Does that make any sense?

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    The initial capital in Polk and Pierce gives it away. They are proper names. Try looking them up again with that clue.
    – mdewey
    Jul 8, 2021 at 16:05
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    What @mdewey said. Note that the whole point of the pun depends on the fact that being poked (perhaps just by a wagging reproachful finger) is far less serious that being pierced (perhaps by a sword through the heart). Which enables the slogan to wittily imply We only beat you before, but we're going to resounding thrash you this time! Jul 8, 2021 at 17:07
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    The source answers the question, if you just click on it.
    – RonJohn
    Jul 9, 2021 at 12:58
  • What's the actual source? You linked a search, and Google searches can vary by location, by user, and over time for that matter. Although, it only has one result for me right now.
    – wjandrea
    Jul 10, 2021 at 18:16

2 Answers 2

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Like mdewey commented, "Polk" and "Pierce" are proper nouns referring to, respectively, James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce.

Polk was the Democratic Party nominee in the 1844 Presidential election, which he won. Pierce was the Democratic Party nominee in the 1852 Presidential election.

Separately, "poke" and "pierce" are both verbs that convey the image of something prodding or sticking something else, which can be used negatively if some person is the one being poked (or pierced). "Polk" is pronounced similarly to "poke" and "Pierce" is, of course, pronounced the same as "pierce."

So "We Polked you in '44; we shall Pierce you in '52!" is a campaign slogan in the form of a pun playing on the fact that Polk won the 1844 election and (so the slogan claims) Pierce will resoundingly win the 1852 election. The "you" could refer to the party's political opponents or to the country as a whole.

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    I would say that the pronunciations of "Polk" and "poke" are similar but not the same. The "l" isn't really pronounced as a distinct sound but it strongly affects the sound of the vowel. Jul 9, 2021 at 4:13
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    This is like that campaign in 1976 (or was it 1980?) where someone had a slogan like "Don't put the Carter before the horse" - only I forget who they were referring to as "the horse" in this case... Jul 9, 2021 at 13:25
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    @DarrelHoffman Carter lost to Reagan in 1980. Reagan acted in a number of cowboy movies.
    – Barmar
    Jul 9, 2021 at 14:52
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    @Barmar I think it was more literal than that - like someone ran an actual horse against him in the primaries as a gag, or something like that. Tried looking it up, but all I kept finding were references to "dark horse" candidates... Jul 9, 2021 at 19:27
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    Since this is an international site, and English learners can be learning English in any country, maybe add "U.S." to qualify "Presidential election"?
    – shoover
    Jul 9, 2021 at 23:09
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Funny that you should bring this up now. Gail Collins in her weekly column in the New York Times also referenced this old campaign slogan that you're referring to, just two days ago. I hope this gives a little more context:

Pondering Presidents — Who Got ‘Polked’?

She writes:

Franklin Pierce spent most of his administration trying to stave off political turmoil by being wishy-washy on slavery. He died an alcoholic, a project he was already working on long before he hit the White House.

On the plus side, one of Pierce’s great political advantages was that he was extremely attractive — his nickname was “Handsome Frank.” This should be a good lesson to all of us who worry that the mass culture is sinking — even in 1852, the electorate was perfectly capable of picking a leader who was terrible but cute.

And if you want to move on to unedifying campaign slogans, here’s one from the Democrats: “We Polked you in ’44, We shall Pierce you in ’52.”

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