Lo·​co·​fo·​co ˌlō-kə-ˈfō-(ˌ)kō How to pronounce Locofoco (audio)
plural Locofocos
: a member of a radical group of New York Democrats organized in 1835 in opposition to the regular party organization

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Locofoco burned brightest in 19th-century America, where it designated a new type of self-igniting match or cigar capable of being lit by friction on a hard surface. The word is believed to combine the adjective locomotive (which was commonly taken to mean "self-propelled," though loco actually means "place," not "self," in Latin) and the Italian word for "fire," fuoco. The political meaning of Locofoco is a story in itself. In 1835, a group of radical Democrats brought locofoco matches to one of their meetings after hearing that their adversaries were plotting to disrupt the meeting by putting out the gas lights. The room did indeed go black but was soon relit, thus earning the group its name.

Word History


after locofoco, trade name of a cigar or match lit by friction, perhaps from loco- (in locomotive entry 1, taken to mean "self-moving") + -foco, altered from Italian fuoco or Spanish fuego "fire" (going back to Latin focus "hearth"); the political group allegedly named from a meeting held at Tammany Hall, New York, on Oct. 29, 1835, at which friction matches were used to light candles after the gaslights were turned off by the group's opponents — more at focus entry 1

First Known Use

1835, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Locofoco was in 1835


Dictionary Entries Near Locofoco

Cite this Entry

“Locofoco.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Locofoco. Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

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