This week’s HH Word of the Week is a word that—entirely by coincidence, of course—first popped up on the Twitter feed back in June, two days before the UK General Election: a statemonger is a meddling, scheming politician.
Why pick this word to best sum up this week’s news? If you have to ask that question, here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed your week living under a rock. Because this week’s headlines—no matter your country, and seemingly no matter what side of your respective parliamentary house you stand—have largely been dominated by political scandal and intrigue, cover-ups and double-speak, arrests and resignations. Statemongers, it seems, currently abound.
Not that there’s anything new about that, of course: the word statemonger dates back to the early seventeenth century, and was first used by the English Roman Catholic priest (and Elizabethan conspirator) William Watson as far back as 1602 (the year before he was executed for treason).
Etymologically, monger—a term now more familiar to English speakers as a suffix denoting trade or trafficking, as in words like costermonger or warmonger—has its roots in Old English, and essentially means “dealer” or “merchant”. That makes a statemonger literally one whose business is meddlesomely or connivingly “dealing” in matters of state:
We have heard of the omnipotence of Parliament, but the town and country petitioners in their omnipotence attempt to go beyond it; they enact for the past, as well as the future, and vote unanimous resolutions which are to alter what has been. There is a proverb which says that great wits have short memories, and the old balsam of memory should be prescribed for such state-mongers, unless a decoction of the herbs of honesty and rue might be deemed a more appropriate medicine.
Robert Southey, On the State of Public Opinion and the Political Reformers (1832)
The word has remained in occasional use in English ever since to refer not only to meddlesome or scheming politicasters, but to those who—as the OED puts it—“affect political knowledge”.
But whatever definition you attach to it, statemonger is this week’s Word of the Week. (Although if HH hadn’t already addressed it on the blog a few months back, the word Adullamite might have made an equally fitting choice...)