pork barrel


: government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits
also : pork sense 2

Did you know?

You might expect that the original pork barrels were barrels for storing pork-and you're right. In the early 19th century, that's exactly what pork barrel meant. But the term was also used figuratively to mean "a supply of money" or "one's livelihood" (a farmer, after all, could readily turn pork into cash). When 20th-century legislators doled out appropriations that benefited their home districts, someone apparently made an association between the profit a farmer got from a barrel of pork and the benefits derived from certain state and federal projects. By 1909, pork barrel was being used as a noun naming such government appropriations, and today the term is usually used attributively in constructions such as "pork barrel spending" or "a pork barrel project."

Examples of pork barrel in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Arévalo appears less interested in prosecuting corrupt actors and more focused on doing away with pork barrel spending, Freeman says. Tara John, CNN, 12 Aug. 2023 The letter, reviewed by AL.com, came from the Jefferson County Community Service Fund, a pork barrel account that allows lawmakers to hand out large donations to local groups. Hannah Denham | Hdenham@al.com, al, 29 June 2023 Read more: Now with the 118th Congress sworn in, the ghost of Shelby’s pork barrel prowess looms large over an Alabama delegation viewed as among the most inexperienced in the state’s recent memory as its members begin filing into new committee assignments. al, 19 Jan. 2023 Congress is already on track to add tens of billions to the Pentagon budget beyond what the department even asked for, much of it for pork barrel projects located in the home states or districts of key members. William Hartung, Forbes, 10 Oct. 2022 Victors may draw lawmakers who did not back them during the campaign to fall in line with pork barrel spending and backroom deals. Gabriela Sá Pessoa, Washington Post, 31 Oct. 2022 Moreover, trucking relies on the public provision of highways, a perpetual pork barrel boondoggle which wastes $18 billion annually. Roslyn Layton, Forbes, 28 June 2022 And he was best known for bringing federal projects, earmarks or pork barrel, to his state. NBC News, 20 Mar. 2022 Fawell was the chief sponsor of 23 bills that eliminated some $2 billion in pork barrel projects, his wife said. Bob Goldsborough, chicagotribune.com, 14 Nov. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pork barrel.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1909, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pork barrel was in 1909


Dictionary Entries Near pork barrel

Cite this Entry

“Pork barrel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pork%20barrel. Accessed 21 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

pork barrel

: government projects that benefit people in a particular part of the country and that are done to help the political careers of elected officials
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