09 March 2021

"Filibuster" means "mercenary pirate"

"Filibuster" is frequently used in the political news nowadays, but not one person in a million can tell you the etymology - and that one person would probably be Dutch.
Borrowed from Spanish filibustero (“pirate”), from French flibustier, from Dutch vrijbuiter (“freebooter”), from vrij (“free”) + buit (“booty”) + -er (“agent”). The word has the same construction as, and is cognate to, English freebooter.
1) A mercenary soldier; a freebooter; specifically, a mercenary who travelled illegally in an organized group from the United States to a country in Central America or the Spanish West Indies in the mid-19th century seeking economic and political benefits through armed force. 

2) (US politics) A tactic (such as giving long, often irrelevant speeches) employed to delay the proceedings of, or the making of a decision by, a legislative body, particularly the United States Senate. 

3) (US politics) A member of a legislative body causing such an obstruction; a filibusterer.
The embedded image is a posed movie still (not really a scene) from the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.


  1. There's a line in a very old Cheech and Chong routine where Cheech touts a Tijuana performance of "Juicy Lucy and her trained gila monster," which I heard as "Trrrucy Lucy and her friend, Filibuster." (fih-lih-BOOOZ-dair) Eventually I figured it out, but when I think of the line now I still hear it the first way in my head, and I think of it whenever I read the word /filibuster/. (Fih-lih-BOOOZ-dair first, and only then FIH-lih-buster.)

  2. If I were forced to guess, I would have said that it was named after a guy named Filibuster. But I was thinking of gerrymandering. Thanks for the explanation!


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