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story.lead_photo.caption Brenda Looper

As I prepared to repost yet another definition from Grandiloquent Word of the Day on my Facebook account over the weekend, I was struck by the realization that so many interesting words have to do with politics, and not in a good way.

That's pretty much the only interesting thing about politics to me now. I much prefer when it was actual public service and we had people like John Paul Hammerschmidt and Dale Bumpers who worked for all their constituents whether they voted for them or not, and worked across the aisle to get things done for the people, not the parties.

That time seems like another world now, which is why so many of the Grandiloquent words have struck a chord with me. The definition of grandiloquent is, according to Oxford, "pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, especially in a way that is intended to impress." Politics now is all about impressions, so it follows that the Word Nerd would find grandiloquent words fitting the bill.

The word that set off this realization was "highbinder":

"One who engages in fraudulent or shady activities; esp. a corrupt, scheming politician; a gangster.

"An assassin, especially one belonging to a (19th century) criminal organization.

"From 'highbinders' (name of a prominent New York gang) early 19th century.

"Used in a sentence: 'Back in my day, politicians would have the decency to at least attempt to conceal the fact that they were nothing more than vainglorious highbinders and quockerwodgers.'"

For the uninitiated, according to Green's Dictionary of Slang, a quockerwodger is (1) a wooden puppet made to dance by pulling its strings; (2) an imitation of a person; (3) a politician acting in accordance with the instructions of an influential third party, rather than properly representing their constituents.

Between highbinders, quockerwodgers and pseudologues (compulsive liars), politics as practiced today doesn't seem to have much of a chance. It would be a miracle to see something in politics now that is selcouth (marvelous or wondrous).

Instead we have skullduggery (dishonorable and/or deceitful behaviors or actions), fanfaronade (bold bragging accompanied by blustering behavior), politicasters (unstatesmenlike, petty, feeble or contemptible practitioners of politics) and drawcansirs (blustering, bullying braggarts).

Why can we not have rumgumption (good judgment, common sense, skilled use of reason) or people who are cerebrotonic (intellectual, introverted and emotionally restrained)?

Is it any wonder I'm an independent? One might call me a mugwump (one who withdraws from a political party and adopts an independent stance), but since I was never in a party to start with, well ...

There are many other interesting words having to do with politics, many of which are a lot more fun to say (yea!) than it is to participate in current politics (boo!).

Kakistocracy means government by the worst people. Obviously, if you subscribe to party politics, that is what's in power if it isn't your party. Then there's Throttlebottom, a purposeless incompetent in public office. The name comes from a character from the 1931 Gershwin musical "Of Thee I Sing," Alexander Throttlebottom, who was nominated for vice president but was of so little importance that no one could remember who he was.

A flapdoodler is a charlatan, a politician, and/or a speaker of portentous but empty words. A pollywog is someone (especially a politician) who is considered to be untrustworthy. A snollygoster (one of my favorite words) is a shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician. A tirekicker is someone who discusses and debates but fails to act.

I'm sure all of you can picture people who epitomize those words. What's sad for those of us living in reality is that they're not the same people.

Gerrymandering is no fun, especially for those whose districts have been so strangely drawn that their votes no longer really count; it's the act of dividing territory into election districts in an unnatural and unfair manner to give an electoral advantage to one political party over another. Its etymology, though, makes it interesting (at least for the Word Nerd).

According to the Merriam-Webster Words at Play blog, "Gerrymander is one of the few words in English containing a salamander in its etymology. This little beast makes an appearance not from any flaw in its character, but because the animal was often depicted with a twisted shape. In 1812, under the governorship of Elbridge Gerry, an election district in Massachusetts was created that had a distinctly irregular outline (in order to benefit Gerry's political party). The district was said to resemble the salamander, and by splicing the second half of this word with the governor's name a new political insult was born."

It wasn't the first, and it certainly won't be the last, especially considering where we find ourselves now.

Now ... who's in the mood for mindless entertainment that has nothing to do with politics?


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at Email her at


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