Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Snollygoster: a word due for revival?

Not long back from the USA, and time to reflect on a few issues.

The Government shutdown, the sad death of author Tom Clancy and the essential elements of country music can wait for now. Let’s start with a long forgotten American English noun, flagged up in a newspaper quiz with three alternative meanings: “snollygoster”.

OK, suspend your disbelief. Evidently derived from “schnell” (quick) and “geeschter” (spirit), and originally a description of a mythical beast said to prey on poultry and children – no, let’s not go down that route - “snollygoster” was used as recently as 1952 by President Harry Truman in describing politicians making a show of public prayer: “I wish some of these snollygosters would read the New Testament and perform accordingly.”

Which no doubt explains its more modern definitions: “one, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles”; and “someone who will go to any lengths to achieve public office, regardless of party affiliation or platform”.

What scope would there be to promote use of the word here in the UK? Cue General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth, with a slight amendment. “And Darling, take a note of the word snollygoster. I like it. I want to use it more often in conversation.” Fat chance, sadly. Just look at the definitions again. We don’t have anyone of that kind in British politics, do we?

(Martin Darby, an aspiring Parliamentary candidate in my political/legal suspense Sackcloth Ashes and Penance, might just fit the definition, but that’s another story…)

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