Thursday, October 09, 2014

Word of the Day -- Pork Barrel

Pork Barrel -- Government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits; also: government funds, jobs, or favors distributed by politicians to gain political advantage.

You might expect that the original pork barrels were barrels for storing pork—and you're right. In the early 19th century, that's exactly what pork barrel meant. But the term was also used figuratively to mean "a supply of money" or "one's livelihood" (a farmer, after all, could readily turn pork into cash). When 20th-century legislators doled out appropriations that benefited their home districts, someone apparently made an association between the profit a farmer got from a barrel of pork and the benefits derived from certain state and federal projects. By 1909, pork barrel was being used as a noun naming such government appropriations, and today the term is usually used attributively in constructions such as "pork barrel spending" or "a pork barrel project."

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