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Political scandals and time-wasters

Junkets have always been sweet

This name for a politician's pleasure trip originally derived from a British custardlike food made of sweetened milk. (Supposedly, Little Miss Muffet dined on this curdled treat.) It was so named because it was taken to market in little reed baskets called jonquettes, from the Latin joncus, meaning "a reed." ("Jonquil" is from the same root.)

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The sense of an excursion taken at public expense, however, is first recorded in 1814. It was an extension of another meaning for the dessert: a festive outing, in which the junket basket grew into a picnic basket.

Boondoggles from the Boy Scouts

This word for pointless busywork was quickly adopted by journalists in 1935 to describe government make-work projects under the Roosevelt administration. Credit for its origin, however, belongs to scoutmaster Robert Link of Rochester, N.Y. Mr. Link coined the term in 1925 for the puttery he observed in scouting. He specifically applied the term to the Boy Scout braided leather neck cord, a standard craft project the usefulness of which, in his opinion, was questionable.

Sources: 'The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology,' by Robert Barnhart; 'A Browser's Dictionary,' by John Ciardi; The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson; 'Loose Cannons and Red Herrings,' by Robert Claiborne; The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, by William and Mary Morris; 'A Second Browser's Dictionary,' by John Ciardi; 'The Story Behind the Words,' by Morton Freeman; Webster's Word Histories; 'Word Mysteries and Histories,' by Robert Claiborne.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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