What Is A “Snollygoster?” – Learning As A Lifestyle

Wanda CampbellI am not a big fan of YouTube, and most of the time I ignore the posts in my Facebook or email account. I was of the group that thinks most of the YouTube postings were silliness or family pictures. I am not interested in silliness, and I don’t feel right viewing anonymous family pictures.

My son, Ben, is an avid viewer. He recently told me I could subscribe to cooking, lectures, and other interesting how-to videos. He also told me about the TED Talks that are posted on YouTube. TED Talks are speeches from the annual TED (Technology Entertainment Design) Conference. The TED website boasts riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.

Mark ForsythTo make sure I would be really interested, he sent me a clip – Mark Forsyth: What is a snollygoster? A Lesson in Political Speak. There were two reasons to watch. One is the word – snollygoster. What a great word! I had to know more. The second reason to watch was the “Lesson in Political Speak.” As we get ready to elect a new president, I thought I should know even more about political speak.

Mark ForsythIn his talk, Forsyth tells us that a snollygoster is a dishonest politician, someone who seeks office regardless of party, platform or principles. He said that words were at the very center of politics, because it allows politicians to control the language. And then, he tells of the discussion about naming George Washington’s position as leader of the country. It seems the House of Representatives did not want George to get a big head, and they suggested a lowly title – President. President, at the time, meant someone who presides over a meeting. The Senate wanted a great title, like King or Magistrate, that would be accepted in international events. After three weeks of debate, the House of Representatives agreed to use the title of President as a temporary measure. According to Forsyth, the Senate has never formally endorsed the title of President.

Forsyth said there were three things to come away with from his discussion. The first was that President Obama is living on borrowed time – any minute they will take away his title of President. The second thing is a “government temporary measure” is really a permanent thing. The third thing is that the President of the US is not that humble these days. There are 147 countries that use that title now, so in the end the Senate won, and House of Representatives lost.

In his conclusion, Forsyth said that politicians try to use words to shape the reality they hope to create, but reality changes words far more than words can change reality.

By: Wanda Campbell


According to Encarta New World Dictionary, 2009, a snollygoster is a “(U.S.) self-seeker: somebody, especially a politician, whose actions are motivated by self-interest rather than by high principles ( slang ) [Mid-19th century.]”