The Locker Room

The history of 'boondoggle'

Posted by Mitch Kokai at 11:01 AM

William Safire's Political Dictionary tells us that a boondoggle is "any project on which government funds are wasted through inefficiency or political favoritism."

Safire also explains that the word once described both braided leather lanyards worn by Boy Scouts and, among Scots, "a marble given as a gift without the recipient's having worked for it."

At one point Safire describes an appearance of the term during a 1935 investigation of New York City relief payments:

[The Board of Aldermen] discovered money was being spent for the teaching of tap dancing, manipulation of shadow puppets, and the geographical distribution of safety pins. One Robert Marshall told the aldermen he was paid for teaching "boon doggles."

Had Mr. Marshall been working in North Carolina in 2008, he might have secured a school dropout prevention grant.

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