While digging through the rich repository of obsolete English words for a recent story, I discovered a word that characterises the 2016 presidential race.
Snollygoster, meaning “A smart person not guided by principles.”
Quite surprisingly, the word has long had political connotations in the US.
According to Rosemarie Ostler, author of “Slinging Mud: Rude Nicknames, Scurrilous Slogans, and Insulting Slang from Two Centuries of American Politics” it dates back American politics in the 1850s.
A snollygoster, according to one Georgia Democrat of the time, was a “place-hunting demagogue” or a “political hypocrite.”
In 1895, The Columbus Dispatch gave an amazing definition:
A snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform, or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnancy.
While I can’t be sure precisely what “monumental talknophical assumnancy” means, it does seem like a possible descriptor of not only the gritty battles of 19th century politics, but the grandstanding of the 2016 presidential campaign thus far.
It’s political theatre at its most dramatic. A spectacle to behold. Snollygostery of the highest order.
Thank you, Pennsyvania Dutch, for giving us a word to capture 2016.
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