Skip to Content

S

sacred cow

A “sacred cow” is any program, policy, or person that is regarded as being beyond attack or untouchable. The term references the status held by cows in Hindu culture, where the cow is regarded as a sacred animal.

For instance, …

Read More about sacred cow

salami tactics

“Salami tactics” refers to a divide and conquer approach, which aims to split up the opposition. The expression evokes the idea of slicing up one’s opposition in the same way as one might slice up a salami.

The phrase was

Read More about salami tactics

samizdat

A form of underground press commonly available in eastern European countries with state-owned media sources. Samizdat typically is a grassroots way to distribute censored content to citizens who otherwise would not have access to this material.  It can take many …

Read More about samizdat

sandbagging

Sandbagging is deceptive behavior intended to lower someone’s expectations so that they can be taken by surprise later.

Typically, sandbagging involves lulling someone into a false sense of security and then taking advantage of them. It’s an act of psychological

Read More about sandbagging

scalawag

A “scalawag” is a pejorative term for a white southerner who supported Reconstruction efforts in the south in the late 1800s. They are often associated with carpetbaggers, who were their northern counterparts.

The term was used by southern Democrats …

Read More about scalawag

Senate hold

A Senate hold is how a senator informally signals his objection to a bill or nomination.

Most congressional actions clear parliamentary hurdles by “unanimous consent” of the Senate, so a senator who intends to object to such procedures can, effectively, …

Read More about Senate hold

send them a message

To “send them a message” is a call to action from a politician telling supporters to use their political capital to voice their opinion.

This can be performed in many ways. A protest can be sending a message, because it …

Read More about send them a message

separate but equal

The infamous justification for the decision in Plessy v Ferguson, the case that formally legalized segregation. The justification behind the decision was that segregation was Constitutional as long as both black and white Americans had equal protection under the law.…

Read More about separate but equal

sergeant-at-arms

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate each have a sergeant-at-arms, whose job it is to maintain order in the legislative chamber.

In the Senate, the sergeant-at-arms can also be instructed to request the presence of senators if not …

Read More about sergeant-at-arms

sharp-elbowed

In politics, the term “sharp-elbowed” refers to being aggressive and assertive when it comes to pursuing a legislative agenda or pushing one’s point of view.

The phrase is traditionally intended to describe a positive attribute in a politician, suggesting that …

Read More about sharp-elbowed

Shivercrats

Shivercrats were a conservative faction of the Texas Democratic Party in the 1950s named for Texas Gov. Allan Shivers (D).

The term was first used in 1952 after Shivers backed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for president over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

Interestingly, …

Read More about Shivercrats

shy voter

A “shy voter” is one who does not admit to supporting a certain candidate to pollsters, but still votes for that candidate in the election.

The term comes from the “Shy Tory Effect,” a phenomenon that found British conservatives greatly …

Read More about shy voter

sine die

Without any future date being designated for resumption from the Latin term meaning “without a day.” An adjournment sine die signifies the end of an annual or special legislative session.…

Read More about sine die

sit-in

A form of peaceful protest that involves sitting down and occupying space, often preventing access to a business or public space.

Sit-ins are a common form of protest in the US, and have been around since the late 1930s. During …

Read More about sit-in

six-year itch

The “six-year itch” is the election held in the sixth year of a president’s tenure in which the party holding the White House historically loses a substantial number of House and Senate seats.

The Atlantic: “For decades political analysts …

Read More about six-year itch

slogan

A short and catchy phrase used to promote a candidate or idea. Slogans attempt to be memorable so that people remember the person behind them more easily.

Examples of slogans used for candidates are: I Like Ike (Eisenhower); Make America …

Read More about slogan

slow-walk

In politics, “slow walk” is a term used to describe an effort to prevent legislation or a political process from moving forward by intentionally slowing it down to a crawl. Another similar term is “obstructionism.”

The origin of …

Read More about slow-walk

smear

To use false information and accusations to harm the reputation of another person.

A smear campaign is repeated uses of this to try to destroy another person’s reputation, typically to make them lose an election.

Psychology Today says that smear …

Read More about smear

soft power

Soft power is the ability to obtain what one wants through co-option rather than the use of coercion.

The phrase was first coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in the late 1980s and is now widely used in international …

Read More about soft power

Spin Alley

“Spin Alley” is the place designated after a political debate where reporters interview analysts and campaign operatives who attempt to “spin” the news coverage of the event.

A video from the 2008 presidential campaign shows what “spin alley” looked like …

Read More about Spin Alley

stalking horse

A “stalking horse” is a candidate put forward in an election to conceal an anonymous person’s potential candidacy. If the idea of the campaign proves viable, the anonymous person can then declare their interest and run with little risk of …

Read More about stalking horse

stemwinder

A “stemwinder” is a rousing political speech that galvanizes a crowd to take action.

The Word Detective notes the term is “one of those grand old words that have traveled so far from their origins that nearly all traces of …

Read More about stemwinder

Swiftboating

“Swiftboating” is an untrue or unfair political attack or smear campaign. It’s similar in meaning to mudslinging.

The term comes from the 2004 presidential campaign when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth produced a series of television ads and …

Read More about Swiftboating