Printable Version
Pronunciation: fi-lê-bê-stêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. A pirate, buccaneer, a free-booter, or a sea-faring adventurer who lives outside the law. 2. A tactic peculiar to the US Senate whereby a speaker may refuse to yield the floor in a debate for as long as he or she can keep talking, thereby preventing a bill from coming to a vote.

Notes: The rules of the US Senate provide each senator with only one opportunity to speak, but no senator can be silenced unless the question is called for a vote on cloture, ending debate. A cloture vote requires a 3/5 majority (60 votes) to pass, so a filibuster succeeds so long as one senator continues to talk, blocking a vote count. Nowadays senate rules allow a "technical filibuster" requiring only one senator to report their intention to filibuster a bill.

In Play: Filibuster is used apolitically in reference to verbal bullies: "The discussion was going well until Myna Bird came in and began a filibuster that squelched everyone else." Don't forget that this word does the work of a verb as well as that of a noun: "Myna filibustered the meeting until most of the attendees politely bowed out and went home."

Word History: This funny word set out as Dutch vrijbuiter "free-booter, pirate". English, however, preferred the more posh-sounding late 18th century French variant, flibustier, with the mysterious substitution of the L for the original R. By the mid-19th century, the word had changed to filibuster under the influence of Spanish filibustero "buccaneer". The point is, the word started out in English referring to the senatorial buccaneers who hijacked a debate. Later, the meaning slipped over to the process itself. Side note: The boot in free-booter is related to booty and the phrase "receive X to boot". This boot originally meant "a valuable, profit" in the days when valuables, especially smuggled valuables, were often hidden in a man's thigh-high boot.

Dr. Goodword,

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