• boondoggle •
Pronunciation: bun-dah-gêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A cord of braided leather or plastic used to decorate saddles and Boy Scout uniforms, the creation of which some see as busywork. 2. A pork barrel project, a useless project that is a waste of time and/or money. The latest term in Washington today is "an earmark", i.e. a project in a bill earmarked to bring money to a legislator's district for a project of questionable value.
Notes: This word is clearly a frontier concoction from US English, so we wouldn't expect much in terms of derivations. A person who boondoggles is a boondoggler who engages in boondoggling. That's about it.
In Play: The scientific projects supported by the National Science Foundation are often perceived as boondoggles by the media: "Ira, don't you think that your idea for nuclear hand grenades might be taken as a boondoggle—even in Washington?" But boondoggles are not limited to Washington; they are all around us: "That job of Ally Katz as manager of rodent control is nothing but a boondoggle so long as she is chasing rats in the literal sense of the word." And remember: even the Boy Scouts have their boondoggles!
Word History: No one knows exactly where today's Good Word comes from. It is clearly a US nonce word whose silliness ingratiated it into our vocabulary. Prior to 1935 today's Good Word was simply a synonym of gadget, widget, thingamajig, or whatchamacallit. The Boy Scouts began using this word around in the mid to late 20s in reference to a strap of braided leather or plastic strips used to hold keys and the like to their uniforms (see picture above). Braiding such straps was seen as a waste of time, so boondoggle became the word for wasting effort on a useless task. The word then moved to Washington, where it became the word for the waste of time and money in government agencies. From there, it spread throughout the English-speaking world.