Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Slang One, especially a politician, who is guided by personal advantage rather than by consistent, respectable principles.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A shrewd person not guided by principles, especially a politician.

Etymologies

Perhaps alteration of snallygaster, a mythical beast said to prey on poultry and children, perhaps from Pennsylvania Dutch schnelle geeschter : Middle High German snēl, quick (from Old High German) + Middle High German geist, spirit (from Old High German).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
19th-century American English. Possibly from snallygaster, a mythical beast that preys on poultry and children, possibly from Pennsylvania German schnelle geeschter, from German schnell, quick + geist, spirit. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • LEVIN: See you, A.J. ANDERSON: Question for you: When was the last time you used the word "snollygoster."

    CNN Transcript Oct 6, 2005

  • "I suspect that what really irritated the Labour representative is that I called for him to publish his expenses so that all Gloucester voters could see that he isn't a snollygoster (a

    mirror.co.uk - Home

Comments

Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • what would HannaSolo say?

    August 13, 2009

  • OED dates its first appearance to 1846.

    April 21, 2009

  • What?! "A few hundred more, but nobody keeps a special list"?! Gah! *starts new public list, here.*

    Edit: Hey! It is derived from snallygaster, says they: 'The Internet lexicographer Quinion adds one final postscript to the arcane saga of the snollygoster: "The origin is unknown, though the Oxford English Dictionary suggests it may be linked to snallygoster, which some suppose to derive from the German schnelle Geister, literally a fast-moving ghost, and which was a mythical monster of vast size--half reptile, half bird...."'

    November 20, 2008

  • save the snollygoster

    November 20, 2008

  • Is this the same as snallygaster? Hm. Guess not.

    May 23, 2008

  • This is another of that set of extroverted and fanciful words that originated in the fast-expanding United States of the nineteenth century (I see a snollygoster as a outsized individual with a carpetbag, flowered waistcoat, expansive demeanour and a large cigar). These days it's hardly heard. Its last burst of public notice came when President Truman used it in 1952, and defined it, either in ignorance or impishness, as "a man born out of wedlock". Many people put him right, some quoting this definition from the Columbus Dispatch of October 1895, with its splendid last phrase in the spirit of the original: "A Georgia editor kindly explains that ‘a snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy'." But an American dictionary fifty years earlier had defined it simply as a shyster. The origin is unknown, though the Oxford English Dictionary suggests it may be linked to snallygoster, which some suppose to derive from the German schnelle Geister, literally a fast-moving ghost, and which was a mythical monster of vast size — half reptile, half bird — supposedly found in Maryland, and which was invented to terrify ex-slaves out of voting.
    (from World Wide Words)

    May 22, 2008

  • a shrewd unprincipled person, esp. a politician

    October 11, 2007