What’s a Snollygoster? Even lexicographers are wrong sometimes

This is an amusing little story about how politics affects the English language. An obscure word that politicians and pundit like to use to refer to their opponents has faded in and out of use. The “wrong” move was removing the word from the dictionary recently, after which it made a comeback. (I’d still never heard of it.)

imageAs the dialectal furor faded, so too did snollygoster—so much so that we at Merriam-Webster removed the word from our abridged Collegiate Dictionary in 2003 for lack of sustained use. | Alas, poor lexicographers: snollygoster was almost singlehandedly revived by New York Times “On Language” columnist William Safire, who in 1980 wrote, “That’s a power a President has—to bring back old worlds, as Harry Truman did with snollygoster—a linguistic power that Mr. Reagan will soon discover.” Over the next half-dozen years, Safire used snollygoster in his “On Language” column, and by 2000, its use was on the upswing. Bill O’Reilly’s love for the word has brought snollygoster roaring back. This time, the lexicographers were wrong. — Mirriam-Webster