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21 July 2017
Morning Sedition

Avast Matey, No Vote Today!

Pirate Flag

With all this longwinded talk of busting the filibuster, the question arises: where did this word originate?

But, first, here's the definition:

Filibuster: A time-delaying tactic associated with the Senate and used by a minority in an effort to prevent a vote on a bill or amendment that probably would pass if voted on directly. The most common method is to take advantage of the Senate's rules permitting unlimited debate, but other forms of parliamentary maneuvering may be used. The stricter rules used by the House make filibusters more difficult, but delaying tactics are employed occasionally through various procedural devices allowed by House rules.

Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989

It turns out that filibuster is derived from the Spanish "flibuster" or "flibustero," which are, in turn, corrupted version of "freebooter," meaning "pirate":

A lawless military adventurer, especially one in quest of plunder; a freebooter; — originally applied to buccaneers infesting the Spanish American coasts, but introduced into common English to designate the followers of Lopez in his expedition to Cuba in 1851, and those of Walker in his expedition to Nicaragua, in 1855.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

But the question still remains, where did the word freebooter come from? Well, we have to Dutch to blame for that. The Dutch word for "pirate" is "vrijbuiter," derived from "vrij" meaning free and "buiter" meaning plunderer. (The word "booty" also comes from buiter, or plunder; think about that in terms of a "booty call" or the slang term for a woman's generous hindquarters.) The French adopted the term as "flibustier" or "fribustier", while the English used "flee-booter" or "freebooter."

The question remains, however, why do we use this word to describe a leglislative delaying tactic? Well, that's because back in the 1800s, John Randolph, a senator from Virginia, prevent votes on items related to reconstruction in the South by making incredibly longwinded, and irrelevant, speeches. Randolph so annoyed his fellow senators that they even came to blows over not being able to vote. So, in 1872, Vice President Schuyler Colfax — you'll recall that the vice president's sole responsibility of any importance is presiding over the senate, since someone has to keep the rabble in line — ruled that a senator could not be restrained in making speeches about an issue being debated. The opponents of this practice decried it as being akin to piracy, or filibustering.

And there you have it.

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