Cataglottism, boondoggle, git, and much, much more.
Kissing using the tongue, French kissing.
This term, albeit potentially useful, is so rare that I cannot find a modern example outside lists of weird words. Its Greek prefix — meaning “down”, but often with an implication of disparagement or abuse or of something inferior or unpleasant — turns up also in cataclysm, catastrophe, catafalque, and catarrh — a dispiriting set of bed-fellows for this mildly erotic term. Its second part is from Greek glottis, a variant of glossa, tongue. As that word could also mean “throat” (and has been borrowed to provide the English medical term for the vocal cords and the space between them), you might translate the stem of cataglottism as deep throat. But let’s not go there ...
An unnecessary or wasteful project.
This typically North American term is often applied in two specific ways, either to describe work of little or no value done merely to appear busy, or in reference to a government-funded project with no purpose other than political patronage. It can also be used for an unnecessary journey by a government official at public expense.
Part of its oddity lies in its sudden emergence into public view in an article in the New York Times on 4 April 1935. This had the headline “$3,187,000 Relief is Spent to Teach Jobless to Play ... Boon Doggles Made”. The “boon doggles” of the headline turn out to be small items of leather, rope and canvas, which were being crafted by the jobless during the Great Depression as a form of make-work. The article quoted a person who taught the unemployed to create them that the word was “simply a term applied back in the pioneer days to what we call gadgets today”. He suggested that boondoggles had been small items of leatherwork which were made by cowboys on idle days as decorations for their saddles.
The word instantly became famous. It seems that Americans had been feeling the lack of a good word to describe unnecessary, wasteful, or fraudulent projects and leapt upon it with delight.
It wasn’t quite new. The first appearance of the word is actually in a British publication, Punch, on 14 August 1929:
The chief scout has recently been presented by the University of Liverpool with a Degree, and by the scouts of America with a boondoggle. Of the two, I think I should prefer the boondoggle. Great as is the honour conferred by the Seat of Learning, there is a homely flavour about the other gift which touches the heart even more. “Boondoggle.” It is a word to conjure with, to roll around the tongue; an expressive word to set the fancy moving in strange and comforting channels; and it rhymes with “goggle,” “boggle,” and “woggle.” three of the most lighthearted words in the English language.
The Daily Messenger of Canandaigua, New York, explained the background to this puzzling item on 20 August 1931:
The boondoggle, which leaped literally into fame overnight when it was introduced by Rochester Boy Scouts at the jamboree in England, is a braided lanyard on which various things such as whistles can be hung. So fascinating do the boys find it, that they have spent practically all their spare time on the work.
On 6 April 1935, two days after the New York Times article appeared, a contrary view about the origin of the word was published in a syndicated snippet in the Nevada State Journal:
“The word ‘boondoggle’ was coined out of the blue sky by Robert H. Link, eagle scout,” wrote Hastings. “It has absolutely no significance except that it has come to mean a good-looking addition to the uniform.”
Mr Link, later a scoutmaster, was also said to have been its originator in an item in a magazine called Word Study later the same year. He is now often quoted in reference works as its inventor. As all the early appearances of boondoggle — none before 1929 — are in connection with Scouts’ lanyards, it is indeed likely that it was created in that milieu. The stories about cowboys and pioneer days have nothing going for them apart from the guesses of one person reported in the 1935 New York Times article.
Whatever its origin, it was that article that converted boondoggle from a word existing quietly in its own small world to one of public importance and continuing usefulness.
[Q] From E Corvin; Gabriella McLeish in London: What is the origin of the word git that I read in a British book?
[A] Could that have been one of the Harry Potter books? It certainly appears in at least one of them. From before 1300 a get was what had been begotten, a child or offspring. But by about 1500 it had started to be used in Scotland and northern England in the sense of misbegotten, a bastard; from there it became a general term of abuse for a fool or idiot. By about 1700 get seems to have lapsed into slang or dialect, only to reappear in the wider language in the 1940s with a different spelling and lacking the associations with illegitimacy. James Joyce uses the older spelling (and meaning) in Ulysses in 1922: “The bloody thicklugged sons of whores’ gets!” These days, it’s a widely known and used term of abuse in Britain for somebody regarded as totally worthless or useless, most commonly appearing in cries of frustration such as “that stupid git, now look what he’s done!”.