“Congressing” and Other Words That Have Come Out of the Government Shutdown Debacle

I know just as much about the government shutdown as I do about Micronesian history or Alaskan ice fishing (which is to say, absolutely nothing). Politics is so divisive and contentious that, if it were a force in physics, it could probably tear atoms apart. Because I like my world with its atoms in tact, I tend to stay away from political conversations and reports about the GOP. However, that doesn’t stop my politically-savvy Facebook friends from flooding my newsfeed with articles about the recent government shutdown. What I’ve noticed is that not only has the controversy raised a whole new set of questions about the future of the American economy, but it has also introduced a range of new vocabulary words that capture the country’s attitude towards this whole debacle.

For the record, I did not create any of these words, nor do I necessarily support the connotative definitions of any of them. I’m simply interested in the terms that are starting to define this period in history and how they have come about. And now that we have that disclaimer out of the way…

Snollygoster (n.): a politician who will go to any lengths to win public office, regardless of party affiliation or platform; a shrewd person

In a recent article from PolicyMic.com, Matthew Rozsa describes the Republican members of Congress as snollygosters for not negotiating the budget of the Affordable Care Act. While I don’t think it is necessarily fair to blame one political party for this mess (it takes two to tango, after all), I appreciate the repopularization of this word. I say “re” because snollygoster is not entirely new. After appearing in an issue of the Columbus Dispatch in 1895, the term came back into use after Harry Truman used it in a speech in 1952: “I wish some of these snollygosters would read the New Testament and perform accordingly.” If choosing your favorite president relied solely on their vocabulary, Truman would be at the top of my list. (Sorry Teddy Roosevelt. I still love your moustache.)

Congressing (v.): wasting time and energy

On October 1st, 2013, “congressing” was UrbanDictionary’s word of the day. The fictional term, meaning “to waste time and energy” or “to be unproductive,” relates to Congress’s inability to come to a resolution. From what I can tell, this term was completely made up by UrbanDictionary, but the virality it has gained since its release says something about the way the country, or at least, the Internet, views the political showdown. (And because the Internet is a slightly more immature projection of the country’s views at any given time, that’s all that really matters, right?) Maybe “Congress” is the opposite of “Progress” after all. Take that, high school Latin/English teachers.

Brinkmanship (n.): the practice of causing or allowing a situation to become extremely dangerous in order to get the results that you want

Your history teacher, on the other hand, had everything right, assuming that he/she taught you the word “brinkmanship” at some point. During the Cold War, the US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles coined this word to describe how frighteningly close the country got to full-blown nuclear warfare with other countries like the Soviet Union. Many believe that the stubbornness of both political parties in this economic standoff represents a form of brinkmanship, causing the word to regain its popularity in the past two weeks. Sure, the government shutdown is bad, but to relate it to a word originally invented to describe the brink of nuclear warfare seems a bit extreme. Then again, the longer the standoff lasts, the more problematic the whole situation will be for this country, and the more deserted Washington D.C. will start to look. We better hurry up before the tumbleweeds start rolling in.

Furlough (v.): to force an employee not to come to work and often dock his or her pay accordingly

According to TIME Magazine, the most “looked-up” word over the past two weeks was “furlough,” probably as a result of news reports overusing this word in an effort to scare the country into anarchy (hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife). In reality, only a select number of people (mostly people that work for government programs that are currently on hiatus, like museums) will be forced into a furlough. Everyone else can continue renting bad Pay Per View rom-coms and stocking up on cronuts.

Government Slimdown (n.): synonym for government shutdown

Okay, I cheated. This is two words, not one, but I thought it deserved an honorable mention. A FOX news reporter used this word to describe the shutdown in a nicer, less threatening way that made a lot of people very angry, so try not to use the shutdown and the slimdown interchangeably.

Some of these words are fabricated. Some are them are not. Either way, their popularity on the Internet and in the news over the past few weeks reveals the country’s attitude on the current political standoff. I can only hope the political parties can come to an agreement so they can start focusing their attention on the impending debt-ceiling deadline, which may prove to be significantly more catastrophic to the country, the world, and my pre-existing financial worries. (#CollegeStudentProblems.)

Image via Shutterstock. Congressing definition via UrbanDictionary.

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