Monday, January 22, 2018

Origins of some political terms and expressions:



It is not correct that the word “politics” comes from the word “poly”, meaning many, and “ticks”, meaning small, bloodsucking things. That is only a joke. The origin of “politics” is the Greek word “polis,” meaning “city.” This produced the Greek “polites,” meaning “citizen”. This in turn produced “politikos,” meaning “regarding citizens or matters of state.” In Latin, the Greek “politikos” became “polticus,” which eventually gave us “politics,” “political,” and, with the suffix “ian” indicating action or agency, “politician” for a person whose jobs involves affairs of government or civil administration. Hence “politics” is the system of governing a society, and a “politician” is someone who works in that apparatus.



The word gerrymander means to manipulate boundaries for political advantage. It dates from 1812 when the governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, signed a bill that redrew districts to favour his party. One of the districts resembled a salamander, giving rise to the term Gerry-mander and from there gerrymander.


The word “caucus” originated in the US shortly before the Revolution where it meant a private meeting of the leaders of a political party to pick candidates for office or conduct other internal party business. Over the years it has broadened to mean any sort of closed political meeting to decide policy and has spread to use by numerous other countries. There is no definitive explanation for the origin of the term.

Old joke:
Q: What's the difference between a caucus and a cactus?
A:  A cactus has all the pricks on the outside.

"Pork barrelling":

Pork barreling is spending government money on a local project in order to win the votes of the people who live in that area. 

From an item by Hugh Rawson in the American Heritage magazine:
The metaphor [ie pork barrel spending] stems from the practice in the pre-refrigeration era of preserving pork in large wooden barrels of brine. The political usage may have been inspired by the distribution of rations of salt pork to slaves on plantations. "Oftentimes the eagerness of the slaves would result in a rush upon the pork barrel, " wrote a 'journalist' named C.C. Maxey in 1919, "in which each would strive to grab as much as possible for himself. Member of Congress in the stampede to get their local appropriation items into the omnibus river and harbor bills behaved so much like negro slaves rushing the pork barrel, that these bills were facetiously styled 'pork-barrel' bills."

Rawson closes with the wonderful quote from a Senate chaplain in the early 20th century. Asked whether he prayed for the senators, the man of the cloth responded, "No, I look at the senators and pray for the country."

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