'Democrats Have the Votes to Filibuster'

'An effort to prevent action in a legislature'

Lookups for filibuster increased 2657% on April 3, 2017, when Democrats secured enough votes to block the 60-vote majority traditionally required for confirming a Supreme Court nominee. A change in Senate rules by the majority party could reduce the threshold to 51, a procedure known as “the nuclear option.”

Filibuster means “an effort to prevent action in a legislature (such as the U.S. Senate) by making a long speech or series of speeches.” Since Senate rules do not limit the debate time for a particular bill, the filibuster is a delaying tactic usually used by the minority party in order to delay or prevent a vote; the speeches may or may not have bearing on the specific legislation in question or reason for the vote.

Filibuster came to English from the Spanish word filibustero, meaning “freebooter” or “pirate.” It was used in this meaning in a colorful dispatch during the Mexican-American War about Commodore Perry:

For his recent exploit before Tabasco, the Vera Cruz papers denounced him as a filibuster. We apprehend they will have to invent a bigger word to characterize his future operations. Filibuster, though, sounds like a term of significance—it may be a good word, like “mobled queen,” yet we doubt if it will answer the coming occasions of the Mexican press.
Louisville Morning Courier, 21 December 1846

Filibuster also began to be used as a verb in the mid-1800s, and the “pirate” meaning was gradually replaced by the “political obstructionist tactic” meaning over the following decades.

Trend Watch tracks and reports on the words that people are looking up. You can see all the Trend Watch articles here.

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