This Reuters article takes the position that Obama meant us to think that a man who says "marvelous" is "out of touch" because "marvelous" is "a seemingly out of date" word. Reuters also quotes a polisci prof saying, "It's a word you kind of associate with the upper class, and I think that the intention was to tweak Romney for being wealthy and, you know, sort of brought up in the kinds of circles where they would say ‘marvelous.'"
Wealthy? Old fashioned? My first association, on hearing one man mock another for saying "marvelous," was: Gay. It's an I'm-more-manly move. I heard a smidgeon of homophobia. Perhaps I heard it because, a few days ago, on winning the Wisconsin primary, Romney introduced Ryan, saying: "Congressman Ryan, he's a great leader, wonderful speaker, but he's not gonna take Ann's place." (Ann being, of course, Mitt's wife.) At the time, I quipped: "Combatting the 'bromance' rumors!"
This is just a meme watch. Note that the budget Romney was talking about was Paul Ryan's budget. The alliance of Romney and Ryan is so good that I suspect the Obama campaign will toy with mockery that has a homophobic edge. Let's make their "marriage" seem unseemly. Not so blatantly that they can't deny it. Any homophobia can be disguised within a socially acceptable distaste for the rich. The word "effete" was practically created for this purpose. Do you remember when Vice President Spiro Agnew derided antiwar protesters as "an effete corps of impudent snobs"?
The word "marvelous" — which means "Such as to excite wonder or astonishment (chiefly in a positive sense); wonderful, astonishing, surprising; worthy of admiration" (OED) — is a very old word, going back to c1330: "Þe fift ledde Andalas, A kniȝt of meruailus los he was." (Arthour & Merlin.) The first use with modern spelling — the double L remains current — is from Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan ii. xxvi: "Miracles are Marvellous workes: but that which is marvellous to one, may not be so to another." And I like the D. H. Lawrence: "Their loving grew more mechanical, without the marvellous glamour." (Sons & Lovers xiii. 365.)
By the way, there's also an archaic and regional use of "marvelous," but that is as an adverb. You get things like: "Nancy Clemens... quoted a farmer who had been hurt in a motor accident: ‘No bones broke,’ said he, ‘but I sure was scratched up marvellous.’" (V. Randolph & G. P. Wilson Down in Holler 161.) That seems quite the opposite of effete. It's folksy. I could imagine some politician using that, probably quoting somebody... some farmer.
But Romney uttered "marvelous," the adjective. He was talking about Paul Ryan's budget, and Obama snickered. Am I wrong to hear a tone of homophobia? I Googled "gay men say marvelous." Sorry, to be so crude, but research can be so easy and I got the most marvelous return. It's Noël Coward's "I've Been To A Marvellous Party," in which male homosexuality and excessive wealth are merged marvelously. Listen to the whole thing, but here's the penultimate verse:
I went to a marvellous party we didn't sit down til tenI'm just waiting for young Paul Ryan to do a stunt at the bar with a lot of extraordinary men and then for Mitt Romney to suddenly cry "fiddle-de-de" and rip off his trousers and jump in the sea. And then Obama arrives with a turtle...
Y'know young Bobby Carr did a stunt at the bar with a lot of extraordinary men
And then Freda arrived with a turtle which shattered us all to the core
And then the Duchess passed out at a quarter to three
And suddenly Cyril cried 'fiddle-de-de'
And he ripped off his trousers and jumped in the sea
I couldn't have liked it more...
Who doesn't like the turtle? And the Leviathan?