Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Etymology Today from M-W: roorback \ROOR-back\
: a defamatory falsehood published for political effect

If you think dirty politics are new, think again. In the midst of the 1844 presidential campaign between James K. Polk and Henry Clay, a letter was published in a newspaper in Ithaca, New York claiming that a reputable witness (one Baron von Roorback) had seen Polk purchase and brand 43 slaves. The letter caused an uproar that threatened to derail Polk's campaign until it was discovered that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by the opposing party — a 19th-century Watergate. Baron von Roorback didn't even exist. The incident proved a political boomerang; Polk won the election and the name "roorback" became a byword for political dirty tricks.

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