In this week of contrasting political momentousness in both America and China, serendipity lead me to a wonderful word that is new to me – snollygoster.

The Free Online Dictionary defines a snollygoster as ‘one, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles’.

An American journalist of the 1890s was more precise saying that a snollygoster is: ‘A fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy’.

Sadly, he didn’t bother to explain exactly what he meant by either talknophical or assumnacy, but I suspect that it wasn’t meant as a compliment.

I should stress at this point that despite the events of this week, I have no particular politician in mind – well perhaps one – it’s just that snollygoster is such a wonderful word to describe almost anyone who aspires to the political class.

Its etymology is uncertain, although Wiktionary says it is; ’19th century American English. Possibly from snallygaster, a mythical beast that preys on poultry and children, possibly from Pennsylvania Dutch schnelle geeschter, from German schnell, quick + geist, spirit.’

It came my way via The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth which I’ve just started reading and I am enjoying immensely. Like his previous book, The Etymologicon, it is both enlightening and wittily written.

By way of a taster, below is a video from of the author explaining more about snollygoster and other political speak.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

6 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 9th November 2012

    Smollygoster – just rolls off the tongue

  • Diarrhoblogger Pudding 9th November 2012

    Plenty of snollygosters are hoping to become police commissioners. Perhaps we should invent some words to describe different sorts of bloggers. For example a blogger who suddenly stops blogging and leaves his/her followers hanging could be a
    “festermester” or a Republican blogger from The States could be a “romney”. Someone who blogs almost everyday could be a “diarrhoblogger” and a literate, philosophical Lancashire blogger could be a “yeti” or a “dodo”.

    • Mr Parrot 9th November 2012

      And a witty and erudite Yorkshire blogger would be a ‘rocking horse dropping’.

  • Diarrhoblogger Pudding 9th November 2012


  • Jay from The Depp Effect 10th November 2012

    What a great word! I do love these little gems of the English language. I’ll have to try to remember that one!

  • Katherine 16th November 2012

    I’ve been rolling ‘snollygoster’ around in my mouth like a malteser, trying to stop it imploding into nothingness… like that wonderful TED talk did for the word ‘president’.


Your email will not be published on this site, but note that this and any other personal data you choose to share is stored here. Please see the Privacy Policy for more information.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: