Voguish Vocabulary: Filibuster

filibuster, n: a procedure used in a legislative body to obstruct the passage of a bill. From the Feb. 11, 1890 US Congressional Record: “A filibuster was indulged in which lasted… for nine continuous calendar days.”

Filibuster probably comes from the Dutch word vrijbuiter, literally “freebooter.” A freebooter is a pirate or highwayman who harasses and steals from travelers. The word was adapted to French as flibustier, then found its way into English where it became filibuster.

In the US, the word was attached to the (now infamous) legislative procedure, perhaps because it is used to steal a legislative result.

Example from the news: Alito filibuster faces long odds: “There’s not going to be a filibuster,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., flatly declared…

Example from Scripture: “I assure you, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a filibuster!” —John 10:1, (Jesus speaking)

(Sources: OED, Merriam-Webster Online)

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  1. I love that wacky NLT.