It was a common theme among the reactions to the end of the recent chapter of the Rod Blagojevich saga: The one charge out of 24 that the former Illinois governor was convicted of was lying. The response: So he was found guilty of being a politician.
It was a common theme among the reactions to the end of the recent chapter of the Rod Blagojevich saga:
The one charge out of 24 that the former Illinois governor was convicted of was lying. The response: So he was found guilty of being a politician.
I would like to think that if I were a politician, I would be visibly (and vocally) upset by this crass characterization — but then I probably wouldn’t be a politician.
The word has a long and inglorious history.
Webster’s principal definition for “politician” is “a person actively engaged in politics, especially party politics, professionally or otherwise.”
Then it adds: “frequently used in a derogatory sense, with implications of seeking personal or partisan gain, scheming, opportunism, etc.”
The key is that term “party politics”: “political acts and principles directed toward the interests of one political party or its members without reference to the common good.”
Also in the Webster’s entry for “politician” is “cf. statesman.”
The abbreviation “cf.” is from the Latin verb “conferre” and means simply “compare.” So we read that a “statesman” is “a person who shows wisdom, skill and vision in conducting state affairs and dealing with public issues, or one engaged in the business of government.”
Clearly, a politician does not compare favorably with a statesman.
Lest anyone believe that this is a relatively new development, however, check out the following words of wisdom gleaned from John Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations”:
“You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner.”
— Aristophanes, “Knights” (424 B.C.)
“Under every stone lurks a politician.”
— Aristophanes, “Thesmophoriazusae” (410 B.C.)
“Get thee glass eyes;
And, like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not.”
— William Shakespeare, “King Lear” (1605)
“And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”
— Jonathan Swift, “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726)
“Conscience has no more to do with gallantry than it has with politics.”
— Richard Brinsley Sheridan, “The Duenna” (1775)
“An honest politician is one who when he’s bought stays bought.”
— Attributed to Simon Cameron (1799-1889)
“Politicians (are) a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people, and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men. I say this with the greater freedom because, being a politician myself, none can regard it as personal.”
— Abraham Lincoln, speech in the Illinois Legislature (1837)
“Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.”
— Henry Brook Adams, “The Education of Henry Adams” (1907)
“Politics has got so expensive that it takes lots of money to even get beat with.”
— Will Rogers (1879-1935), syndicated newspaper article
“Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
— George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (1946)
Contact Barry Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/.