Word of the Day: Snollygoster

Word of the Day

Today’s word of the day, courtesy of Julia McCoy’s “34 of the Craziest Words in English” article on the ExpressWriters website (May 20, 2014), is snollygoster. “Snolly what?” you ask. Snollygoster. McCoy says, “This is something many people already call many politicians, but it happens to be a nicer sounding term. This refers to a politician who does or says things for their own personal advancement instead of following their own principles” (https://expresswriters.com/34-craziest-words-english/). According to www.dictionary.com, a snollygoster is “a clever, unscrupulous person.” While www.etymonline.com says that it is a “fanciful coinage,” Webster’s says, “probably alteration of snallygaster a mythical creature that preys on poultry and children.”

According to www.legendsofamerica.com, “For centuries, a large winged beast known as the Snallygaster is said to have terrified the people of Frederick County, Maryland. The dragon-like beast is described as being a half-reptile and half-bird that lives deep in the caves of South Mountain. The mysterious creature is said to swoop silently down from the sky, stealing farm animals and children from the unsuspecting farm folk. Some say it’s real.” Frederick County, Maryland, according to its wiki, “is included in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area. Like other outlying sections of the Washington metropolitan area, Frederick County has experienced a rapid population increase in recent years.” Hence the linguistic change from the monster to the politician is not hard to fathom.

According to www.OnThisDay.com, on this date in 1915, Woodrow Wilson issued a specific warning to the German government about its threats against ships crossing the Atlantic. He said, “The Government of the United States views those possibilities with such grave concern that it feels it to be its privilege, and, indeed, its duty, in the circumstances, to request the Imperial German Government to consider, before action is taken, the critical situation in respect of the relation between this country and Germany — which might arise were the German naval force, in carrying out the policy foreshadowed in the Admiralty’s proclamation, to destroy any merchant vessel of the United States or cause the death of American citizens” (https://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Wilson%27s_First_Warning_to_the_Germans). The communique says further, “It is stated for the information of the Imperial Government that representations have been made to his Britannic Majesty’s Government in respect to the unwarranted use of the American flag for the protection of British ships.”

Less than three months later, the German admiralty sank the Lusitania, a British passenger liner that included 128 Americans among its passengers. The USA expressed outrage, and this incident help prepare the people of the USA for entry into World War I.

But it is not a simple story of evil Germans killing innocent Americans. The truth is that the British were using passenger liners to transport munitions from the United States since the beginning of the war. The British had developed Q-ships, with concealed guns on their decks, that were specifically designed to counter the Germans’ U-boat threat. Such ships made it very dangerous for a U-boat to surface and warn a ship before attacking, which had been an expectation.

Beyond the basics of the British subterfuge in using passenger liners to carry munitions, the Germans tried to warn Americans against sailing on the Lusitania. The warning from the Imperial German Embassy, and printed in a variety of New York newspapers, said, “NOTICE! TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk. IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY Washington, D.C., 22 April 1915.” In addition, according to the Washington Times, passengers received telegrams from the German Embassy warning them that the ship would be torpedoed.

In addition, the Lusitania had been instructed to sail without flags, and it had had itself painted to try to disguise its identity. The British Admiralty sent messages to the captain to avoid the Irish Sea or, if that was not possible, to sail in a zig-zag pattern to try to confuse the U-boats. The captain ignored the warnings.

One has to wonder why Woodrow Wilson, who won re-election in 1916 using the slogan, “He kept us out of war,” allowed American munitions manufacturers to transport weapons to England on a passenger liner. The United States was, supposedly, neutral in the war, and yet American weapons were being sent to the English. Why didn’t the government warn Americans away from sailing on the Lusitania given the very specific nature of the warnings from the German Embassy? Is it possible that Wilson really wanted us in the war?

I would say it is certainly possible, maybe even likely, that Wilson was supporting the English side in World War I despite claims of neutrality. Then again, the snollygoster lives right there near Washington, DC, and Woodrow Wilson was a politician. Sadly, when it comes to politicians, especially the ones in Washington, DC, nothing has changed in 105 years.

The image is of a snallygaster, from the Harry Potter Fan Zone (https://www.harrypotterfanzone.com/pictures/snallygaster/). Any resemblance to any particular politician is, I’m sure, purely coincidental.