In Political Slang, "Pork" Is a Staple In Political Slang, "Pork" Is a Staple
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In Political Slang, "Pork" Is a Staple

by Mark Peters

March 1, 2009

The many linguistic uses of pork-from pork barrel to porkulus and beyond.

"Pork pork pork!" So said the Swedish chef. Or was that "Bork bork bork"? Whatever.Someone somewhere, muppet or organic lifeform, is always accusing politicians of pork, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "Government funds or benefits dispensed by politicians in order to gain favour with patrons or constituents."Rush Limbaugh inflated the latest balloon at the pork party by coining porkulus-a one-word criticism that seems to have been born in a January 23rd rant that discussed President Obama's stimulus plan: "…this massive porkulus-it's not a stimulus, it's a porkulus-this porkulus spending extravaganza has been flatly rejected by the Office of Management and Budget and Wall Street."Columnists with more finely honed pork-dar than I will have to determine whether the stimulus bill is a true pork-fest or not. I only care about words, and whether you think Limbaugh is a fear-mongering blowhard or just a long-winded slimeball, porkulus is creative and clever enough to have a shot at succeeding, I reckon. Since its hogwashy birth, porkulus has turned up in dozens of headlines, articles, and blogs, with Seattle Weekly winning the alliteration medal of honor for "Protesting the Porkulus Package Postmortem." There's even a website carrying the pork torch-www.porkulus.org-and I do admire their image of a lipsticky pig, a nifty visual marriage of the two most recently prominent hog-happy idioms.Just as Wilbur preceded bacon, pork came before porkulus, and our obese friend the OED tells us that in the 1870s pork barrel first got metaphorical, meaning "a supply of money; a
source of rich pickings, the source of one's livelihood." Eventually, pork stretched its chops wide enough to include the political meaning that dominates discourse today, and over time, pork has also been used as a verb. This 1987 OED quote tells a timeless tale of craptastic public servants: "I don't blame people for porking if there's an opportunity to pork."One reason for the appeal of pork in politics probably has to do with the earthy, muddy, punchy, guttural flavor of the word, which has inspired plenty of other meanings besides the political and food-related senses, which are the mere tip of the swine-berg. Porker used to be a slang term for a sword, while a pork sword is a penis, and a pork-knocker is a freelance miner (because the gold or diamonds they would find could put pork on their table). Cincinnati is nicknamed Porkopolis for its previous pork-packing prominence, and a raven's call has been represented as pork-porking, which implies nothing about this black bird's legislative proclivities or evolutionary heritage.Will porkulus join these terms in the OED or other dictionaries? Grant Barrett-editor of Hatchet Jobs and Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang and Double-tongued Dictionary-says, "…porkulus really is a delicious little coinage. It's fun to say, it makes you think of ridiculous, too, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. But the odds are still against it succeeding. If you look at any of the one-sided glossaries of political terms, especially those created after the fiasco of the 2000 election, you'll find that most of them are nonce or dead. Words are like legislation: unless they get bipartisan support, they're unlikely to succeed."In any case-and since I am a great humanitarian, always striving to make the world a better place-I'd like to see the concept of
political pork squeal and wallow in other mud puddles of language. It's so satisfying and cocoa-warming for politicians and pundits to cry "Pork!" that the rest of us ought to get in on the act, finding self-serving slop in non-legislative places.I look forward to the day when one engaged person says to their better half: "There's too much pork in these wedding vows." Perhaps a parishioner might say to a priest: "Father, that's not a homily; it's a pork-ily!" Maybe my editor will one day complain, "Come on, Mark, another porkfest?" (I think column pork is when I link to my other blogs, like this.)Where else have you found enough pork to start your own government or restaurant? Let us know in comments, you pork-loving, pig-farming comment hogs.
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In Political Slang, "Pork" Is a Staple