11 Words and Phrases Popularized by Teddy Roosevelt

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Contrary to his well-known slogan “speak softly and carry a big stick,” Theodore Roosevelt was hardly one to speak softly. Here are some words and phrases TR coined or popularized that remain in use to this day, along with a few that didn’t make it past the twenties.

1. Nailing Jelly To The Wall

Definition: An impossible task.

“Somebody asked me why I did not get an agreement with Columbia. They may just as well ask me why I do not nail cranberry jelly to the wall.” –TR, 1912.

2. White-capper

Definition: A vigilante.

“The law-breaker, whether he be lyncher or white-capper… must be made to feel that the Republican party is against him.”-TR, 1896.

3. Nature-Faker

Definition: One who knowingly promotes humanized and/or exaggerated ideas about animal behavior.

“[The] ‘nature-faker’ is of course an object of derision to every scientist worthy of the name, to every real lover of the wilderness, to every true hunter or nature lover.” –TR, 1907. (He even hurled this charge against renowned author Jack London.)

4. Weasel Words

Definition: Soft and ambiguous language.

“One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called ‘weasel words.’ When a weasel sucks eggs, the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a ‘weasel word’ after another, there is nothing left of the other.” –TR, 1916. (According to a 1916 New York Times article, Roosevelt was accused of plagiarizing the term, which appeared in The Century Magazine in 1900. Roosevelt said he heard it from a friend years earlier.)

5. Square Deal

Definition: A fair arrangement.

“The labor unions shall have a square deal, and the corporations shall have a square deal.” –TR, 1903.

6. Mollycoddle

Definition: Weak and cowardly.

“The Mollycoddle vote [consists of] the people who are soft physically and morally, or have a twist in them which makes them acidly cantankerous and unpleasant.” –TR, 1913. (He also used this word to unflatteringly describe the game of baseball, which he didn’t care for… although he famously stepped in to save American football.)

7. Strong as a Bull Moose

Definition: To sport immense and formidable strength.

“I am as strong as a Bull Moose and you can use me to the limit.” –TR, 1900. (He coined this phrase after he received the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nomination.)

8. Muckraker

Definition: A journalist who searches for dishonorable aims and tactics used by public figures.

“The men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck”—TR, 1906. (The phrase was modified from a character in John Bunyan’s novel Pilgrim’s Progress.)

9. Hat in the Ring

Definition: One’s campaign has officially begun.

“My hat is in the ring, the fight’s on.”—TR, 1912. (Roosevelt said this when asked if he’d be running for president again that year.)

10. Pussyfooting

Definition: To refrain from commitment.

“I think they are inclined to pussy-foot, and it is worse than useless for them to nominate me, unless they are prepared for an entirely straightforward and open campaign.”—TR, 1916. (While Roosevelt helped popularize the word, it had appeared in print as early as 1893. This was Roosevelt's response when asked about his odds of again becoming the Republican presidential nominee.)

11. Bully Pulpit

Definition: A position noticeable enough to provide an opportunity to speak out and be heard.

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”—TR, 1909. (“Bully”—one of Roosevelt’s favorite exclamations—means “grand” or “excellent.”)

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February 10, 2013 - 11:11pm
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