Monday, September 09, 2002

Etymology Today from M-W: muckrake \MUCK-rayk\ (verb)
to search out and publicly expose real or apparent misconduct of a prominent individual or business

The noun "muckrake" (literally, a rake for "muck," i.e., manure) rose out of the dung heap and into the realm of literary metaphor in 1684. That's when John Bunyan used it in _Pilgrim's Progress_ to represent man's preoccupation with earthly things. "The Man with the Muckrake," he wrote, "could look no way but downward." In a 1906 speech, Teddy Roosevelt recalled Bunyan's words while railing against journalists he thought focused too much on exposing corruption in business and government. Roosevelt called them "the men with the muck-rakes" and claimed they didn't know "when to stop raking the muck and look upward." Investigative reporters weren't insulted; they adopted the term "muckraker" as a badge of honor. And soon English speakers were using the verb "muckrake" for the
practice of exposing misconduct.

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