Grant Barrett, known to LH readers not only for Double-Tongued Word Wrester but for the splendid language puzzle he recently provided, has come out with a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in politics, Hatchet Jobs and Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang. It has up-to-the-minute terms like belligerati ‘any belligerent person or group; (hence) as a group, pro-war commentators’ (first used, apparently, by “Gordon” on Usenet on Mar. 16, 2000 with the quirky spelling belligeratti; it has since, inevitably, become the name of a blog), but also lovingly chronicles long-forgotten terms like blue-light ‘a New England Federalist opposed to the War of 1812’ and leg treasurer ‘one who flees with stolen government funds’:

1839 Ohio Repository (Canton) (Aug. 29) 2: Another Leg Treasurer, Owen Hamlin, entrusted by Mr. Dixon, Rail Road Commissioner, with a check for $11,600 on the State bank of Illinois, collected the money and Swartwouted.

Then there are words that go back into what (for these United States) can be considered the mists of antiquity and are still in circulation, such as war hawk, used in a high-Tory London periodical called The Rehearsal in 1708 and by Thomas Jefferson in a 1798 letter to Madison (“At present, the war hawks talk of septembrizing…”) and still going strong in 1999 (“the policy wonk who would become the administration’s fierce war hawk”). Furthermore, it has tasty and informative introductory essays on “Inside Baseball,” “The –Gate to Scandal” (which ends with a list of dozens of such formations, from Abdulgate to Zippergate), “The Blogistan Lexicon,” and other word-spawning phenomena.

(The Christian Science Monitor sidebar “Yo, vote!” quotes a selection of definitions from the book.)
From the Republican convention that begins tomorrow through the election in November, there’s going to be a lot of politics to deal with, and this is the ideal lexicographical companion as you try to sort it all out. Well done, Grant!


  1. aldiboronti says

    On a related topic, lh, check out
    for a rundown of the latest political buzzwords and much else.

  2. But what is it about -gate, for it to be attached to every species of scandal, when other possibilities (boy-cott?) don’t catch on. It’s a curious formation, presumably due to newspaper headlines.

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