11 Words and Phrases Popularized by Teddy Roosevelt

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Getty Images

Contrary to his well-known slogan “speak softly and carry a big stick,” Theodore Roosevelt—who passed away on January 6, 1919—was hardly one to speak softly. Here are some words and phrases coined or popularized by T.R. that remain in use to this day, along with a few that didn’t make it past the twenties.

Mental Floss just launched a new podcast with iHeartRadio called History Vs., and our first season is all about Theodore Roosevelt. Subscribe here!

1. NAILING JELLY TO THE WALL

Definition: An impossible task.

“Somebody asked me why I did not get an agreement with Columbia. They may just as well ask me why I do not nail cranberry jelly to the wall.” —TR, 1912.

2. WHITE-CAPPER

Definition: A vigilante.

“The law-breaker, whether he be lyncher or white-capper… must be made to feel that the Republican party is against him.” —TR, 1896.

3. NATURE-FAKER

Definition: One who knowingly promotes humanized and/or exaggerated ideas about animal behavior.

“[The] ‘nature-faker’ is of course an object of derision to every scientist worthy of the name, to every real lover of the wilderness, to every true hunter or nature lover.” —TR, 1907. (He even hurled this charge against renowned author Jack London.)

4. WEASEL WORDS

Definition: Soft and ambiguous language.

“One of our defects as a nation is a tendency to use what have been called ‘weasel words.’ When a weasel sucks eggs, the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a ‘weasel word’ after another, there is nothing left of the other.” –TR, 1916. (According to a 1916 article in The New York Times, Roosevelt was accused of plagiarizing the term, which appeared in The Century Magazine in 1900. Roosevelt said he heard it from a friend years earlier.)

5. SQUARE DEAL

Definition: A fair arrangement.

“The labor unions shall have a square deal, and the corporations shall have a square deal.” —TR, 1903.

6. MOLLYCODDLE

Definition: Weak and cowardly.

“The Mollycoddle vote [consists of] the people who are soft physically and morally, or have a twist in them which makes them acidly cantankerous and unpleasant.” —TR, 1913. (He also used this word to unflatteringly describe the game of baseball, which he didn’t care for… although he famously stepped in to save American football.)

7. STRONG AS A BULL MOOSE

Definition: To sport immense and formidable strength.

“I am as strong as a Bull Moose and you can use me to the limit.” —TR, 1900. (He coined this phrase after he received the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential nomination.)

8. MUCKRAKER

Definition: A journalist who searches for dishonorable aims and tactics used by public figures.

“The men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck.” —TR, 1906. (The phrase was modified from a character in John Bunyan’s novel Pilgrim’s Progress.)

9. HAT IN THE RING

Definition: One’s campaign has officially begun.

“My hat is in the ring, the fight’s on.” —TR, 1912. (Roosevelt said this when asked if he’d be running for president again that year.)

10. PUSSYFOOTING

Definition: To refrain from commitment.

“I think they are inclined to pussy-foot, and it is worse than useless for them to nominate me, unless they are prepared for an entirely straightforward and open campaign.” —TR, 1916. (While Roosevelt helped popularize the word, it had appeared in print as early as 1893. This was Roosevelt's response when asked about his odds of again becoming the Republican presidential nominee.)

11. BULLY PULPIT

Definition: A position noticeable enough to provide an opportunity to speak out and be heard.

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!” —TR, 1909. (“Bully”—one of Roosevelt’s favorite exclamations—means “grand” or “excellent.”)

Did Teddy Roosevelt Really Say That?

Mental Floss has a new podcast with iHeartRadio called History Vs., about how your favorite historical figures faced off against their greatest foes. Our first season is all about President Theodore Roosevelt. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts here, and for more TR content, visit the History Vs. site.

How a Herd of Goats Helped Save the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum from California’s Wildfires

Oleg Elkov/iStock via Getty Images
Oleg Elkov/iStock via Getty Images

This past spring, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California, decided to prepare for the possibility of wildfires by clearing flammable brush around the perimeter. Instead of dousing it in herbicide or preemptively burning it away with controlled fire, they simply ushered in 500 very hungry goats.

According to Smithsonian.com, Vincent Van Goat, Selena Goatmez, and other aptly named ungulates are part of a service called 805 Goats, which offers a more cost-efficient and eco-friendly method of clearing land by which herds of goats eat every plant in sight.

Now surrounded by barren land, the institution watched several months pass without a fire—until last Wednesday, when library curator Randle Swan arrived on the premises and spotted California’s Easy Fire not too far off. He later told NBC Los Angeles that they had actually planned an emergency drill for that day.

CNN reports that although Simi Valley police mandated evacuations, some security workers, the library director, the facility manager, and the head curator all stayed on site to fortify artifacts against the approaching blaze. Along with records from Reagan’s political career, the library contains Nancy Reagan’s wedding ring, dresses, and many other personal belongings. The graves of both Reagans are also on the grounds.

Firefighting aircrafts and trucks steadily soaked the area with water in an attempt to stave off creeping flames.

"It's a pretty tough situation here, there's never been fires this close to the library," the library's executive director John Heubusch told KTLA. "It's a place of national treasure, and the flames are licking right up against it."

Both the parking lot and the heroic efforts of firefighters undoubtedly kept the wildfires from reaching the library and museum, but the goats’ earlier enterprise definitely didn’t go unacknowledged.

“One of the firefighters mentioned that they do believe the goats’ fire line helped them fight this fire,” library spokesperson Melissa Giller told CNN. “They just proved today how useful they really are.”

And they couldn’t have done it without their epic four-chambered stomachs—find out more about that and other awesome goat facts here.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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