A portmanteau word for the antics of Donald J. Trump.
Snollygoster has been in America’s political vocabulary since the 1840s. Merriam Webster defines it as an unprincipled but shrewd person, someone – especially a politician – who does things for their own gain.
The word’s origin is unknown, but etymologists suggest that snollygoster may come from the German schnelle Geister, possibly meaning quick witted.
According to Verbivore’s Feast: A Banquet of Word & Phrase Origins, snollygoster was used in The Columbus Dispatch of 28 October 1895 to describe “a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles… who gets there by sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnancy.” Sound familiar?
Snollygoster was then popularized by Georgia Democrat, H. J. W. Ham, writes Rosemarie Ostler in her book Slinging Mud: Rude Nicknames, Scurillous Slogans, and Insulting Slang from Two Centuries of American Politics (2011):
“[Ham] travelled around the country during the 1890s with a stump speech titled ‘The Snollygoster in Politics’. Ham claimed to have first heard the word during an 1848 political debate. He defined a snollygoster as a ‘place-hunting demagogue’ or a ‘political hypocrite’.”
Snollygoster is not to be confused with snallygaster, a mythical dragonlike beast – half bird, half reptile – supposedly found in Maryland. According to legend, German immigrants who settled in Western Maryland and Southern Pennsylvnia in the 1700s brought not only their culture, but also their monsters, the snallygaster being one of them. The beast was said to prey on small farm animals, pets and even young children. The legend was resurrected in the 19th century to scare freed slaves out of voting.
Snollygoster faded into obscurity around World War I, then resurfaced during President Harry S. Truman’s 1952 re-election campaign. A White House assistant recalled how Truman once sent reporters scurrying to their dictionaries when he denounced Republican “snollygosters”, turning to a puzzled press corps and saying, “Better look that word up, it’s a good one.”
Donald J. Trump has astutely exploited being hand-in-glove with right-wing Christian Evangelicals in the USA. As Adele Stan noted in “Trump Leads the Religious Right to the Promised Land” (Moyers & company, 2 February 2017):
“It’s been a heady two weeks for right-wing Christian evangelicals. Never before has a president of the United States – not Reagan or either of the Bushes – delivered so much of their agenda in such short order as Donald Trump has just done. He capped off his string of early valentines to the religious right with the announcement of a Supreme Court nominee who is poised to revoke the rights of women, further tear down the ‘wall’ between church and state and open wider the doors for big monied interests to buy the political system they want.”
Snollygoster! Proverbs 29:2 comes to mind, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”