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Pork Barrel and Slush Fund

Posted by James Briggs on December 08, 2003

In Reply to: Pork Barrel posted by ESC on December 08, 2003

: : : 'Pork barrelling' is a term I often hear used by politicians. I'm not entirely clear as to what it means (although I suspect I do), and I'm certainly curious as to its origins.

: : : Any clues please?

: :
: : pork barrel / PORK-ba-rul / (noun)
: : : government projects or appropriations yielding rich patronage benefits
: : Example sentence:
: : Although several large appropriations for projects of questionable usefulness went to his home district, the congressman denied that he had supported any budget item that was just a pork barrel.
: : 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 often used attributively in constructions such as "pork barrel politics" or "pork barrel project."
: : From "Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day" (Jan 9, 2001)

: PORK BARREL ? ?the state or national treasury, into which politicians and government officials dip for ?pork,? or funds for local projects?The phrase probably is derived from the pre-Civil War practice of periodically distributing salt pork to the slaves from huge barrels?? From ?Safire?s New Political Dictionary? by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).

A slush fund is a fund of money that is separate and secret from other funds. The original source of such funds was the surplus fat or grease from fried salt pork barrels, the standard food on 19th century ships. The slush was usually sold in port and the money raised used to buy little extras and luxuries for the crew. In 1866 the US Congress had applied the term to a contingency fund it had set up from one of its operating budgets. From that time the expression took on its current meaning.