A “boodle” refers to a large sum of bribe money or graft money.
Boodle can also be used to mean a large collection of something. In fact, some linguists believe that the phrase “the whole kit and kaboodle” is a corruption of the phrase “the whole kit and boodle.”
However, “boodle” is rarely used in this sense today.
Origin of “Boodle”
The word “boodle” originally comes from the Dutch “boedel,” meaning wealth and riches. Boodle was first used in its modern sense of dirty money in 1858.
Today, boodle is often used to refer to ill-gotten gains by grifters.
In 2019, the New Republic wrote about the Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoisky, who has been accused of laundering millions of dollars through US real estate purchases and shell companies:
Instead of plopping his funds in Manhattan high-rises or Miami beachfronts, Kolomoisky’s network tried a different tack, opting to stuff his boodle in metallurgy plants across the Rust Belt and buildings in downtown Cleveland.
Boodle can also mean political spoils, or an undeserved windfall. In this sense, the boodle might not be illegally come by. This is sometimes called “honest graft.”
But using the term “boodle” suggests that the recipient doesn’t truly deserve the money.
In 2019, for example, the Boston Globe wrote about what it dubbed the “tale of two welfare programs.”
The newspaper criticized the bailouts that the Trump administration was handing to American farmers in the midst of cuts to the SNAP food stamp program.
The Globe called the payouts to farmers inefficient and wasteful:
Some of the boodle is going to people who are barely farmers at all. (Hey, Senator Grassley!) Most of it is buoying not mom and pop farms, but the giant operations that gobble them up.
The term boodle is often associated with the kind of corruption found in machine politics.
In Chicago, during the gilded age, the city’s government was rife with low-level graft. Many of the city’s politicians were Irish American and were referred to “Irish boodle politicians.”
During this time, boodling also referred to the practice of selling city franchises to private businessmen.
In 19th century America, sheriffs had their own kind of specialized boodle.
According to most state and local laws, authorities were allowed to arrest vagrants and lock them up in jail.
They were assigned funds to feed the prisoners and run the jails, but often pocketed most of that money. The jails which housed vagrants came to be known as “boodle jails.”
Use of “Boodle” in a sentence
- Investigations into potential corruption have led to the discovery of boodle, unaccounted for cash that seems to be influencing political decisions behind the scenes.
- Critics argue that the influence of boodle undermines the democratic process, allowing money to have more say than the will of the people.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.