Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
French has plenty of words for pirates: pirates, corsaires, flibustiers, forbans, contrebandiers. All these sundry scurvy dogs are not equivalent; they are distinguished by their theatre of operation, and whether or not they were acting with a royal warrant. Many of these words made it into Middle English little changed, such as “pirate” itself (shares Gk. roots with “peril” and “experiment”), and corsair (“runner”), and buccaneer (from “boucanier”, or smoker (of wild game, perhaps belonging to the king)).
The puzzle is flibustier, which, if you heard it pronounced, might suggest an article of infected intimate apparel. This word shows up in various forms in many European languages. All apparently derive from the Dutch word vrijbuiter. Vrijbuiter made it into English by different routes, as both freebooter and filibuster. The boot in freebooter is not footwear, but survives (is alive and kicking?), in pirate booty, and in the phrase “and you get X to boot”, deriving from an O.E. word for “profit”.
The history of the conquest and governance of the Americas has been a bloody one, we all know. Part of this history took place during a little-known outlaw period, in the mid-19th century, which saw the depredations of American filibusters on Latin American states. A filibuster in this sense was someone acting against a foreign sovereign state without the approval of their own government. A web resource goes into this history here.
The more familiar sense of filibuster, as a delaying tactic in parliamentary debate, comes from the same roots. During filibusters, opposition members are called upon to expatiate at great length on nothing of consequence, in order to let legislative motions die on the books by preventing a vote. So filibustering is very popular and thrilling for pols. Filibustering tactics amount to hijacking the proceedings. A fairly common image shift portrays a filibuster as a filler buster, a nice double-yoked eggcorn implying “breaking up the proceedings by injecting a load of empty filler”.
Obama also vowed to fight FISA, even filler buster it and not to let it pass.
(http://www.propeller.com/story/2008/07/ … 00-a-year/)
A “magic 60” is the term used to describe a filler-buster proof majority in the Senate.
(http://www.hubdub.com/m18610/Will_the_D … _US_Senate)
So, we, the people of the United States voted for this fillerbuster-proof majority.
(http://ohgreggory.blogspot.com/2009/04/ … -ship.html)
In a time where the people are begging for real leadership and not the bickering on the gamesmanship we placed in politics—to lead us out of times too desperate to despair even despite the heart aches in pain. A type of pain that we haven’t seen since the 1860—the years of filler-buster and divided Houses!
This week the American media carried the story of a Republican senator staging a rare verbal filibuster. The effort ended after twelve hours, defeated by the demands of human plumbing. It was, in the end, a lot of bluster, accomplishing little. A filibluster, if you like.
The web is full of examples of “filibluster.” Most examples bear the signature of intention. They are clearly puns. Some, however, are headscratchers. Such as this one:
: “You and Charles Schuman need to lead a filibluster against any extremist nominees that those dirty rotten Republicans try to push through the Senate. ”
Does the composer of this piece know the difference between “filibuster” and “filibluster?” One wonders.
I haven’t found anyone confession to the confusion, though I wonder if hypnosis therapy might be able to extract a confession from me. It seems like a mistake that, if I did not make it, I should have.
Absent an explicit confession, we will probably have to declare “filibluster” a rotten eggcorn, one that owes its non-punning existence to punning sources. It seems, despite the suspicion of a punning ancestor, to have entered standard usage for some speakers. I call your attention to three interesting web uses of the word:
: “if this contest should terminate in a round of filibluster ”
: “i wonder if you can filibluster at your execution”
“:”: “One Senate cannot make rules for the next Senate. That means in Jan., 51 votes win all, till rules are decided on. Reid is talking about making the filibluster rules more reasonable. He will need only 51 votes which he probably has to put in reasoanable filibluster rules. If he does I cannot see the Republicans filiblustering over this. ”
The first example, occurring in a preface written in 1861, predates the earliest examples of “filibuster” (=legislative obstruction) by some 30 years. A popular meaning of “filibuster” in the 1860s was “one who engages in unauthorized and irregular warfare against foreign states” (OED). It was used, for example, to describe Garibaldi’s midcentury insurrectionists. The preface mentions Garibaldi and probably uses “filibuster/filibluster” in this sense, even though the phrase “round of filibluster” hints at the political debate sense that would filch the word at the end of the century. Anyway, it seems unlikely that the usage in the 1861 book is a pun. Puns are turnabouts on popular phrasings and “filibuster” was too new in the 1860s to nurture irony.
The second example comes from a blog entry that is like a rush of many ideas butted sentence-to-sentence. Seems to be an unlikely place for a pun. Puns are like punchlines in a comedy act: to have any force, they have to be heard/read as puns. There are many devices for flagging puns. The knowing wink, the elbow nudge. Following a pun with a pause so that the pun can sink in. Setting a pun in quotation marks, embedding a pun in a long string of puns, putting it in the mouth of a known punner (a Shakespearean device).
The third example employs “filibluster” three times in a row with no hint that it is a pun. A pun can be funny the first time you hear it. The third time, though? More likely, I think, that the writer really thinks the word is “filibluster.”