Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Boondoggle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 15, 2010

There are those who will tell you that American scoutmaster, Robert H. Link coined the term and there are those who will tell you that it was coined by a reporter for the New York Times.  What everyone agrees to regarding this term is that it is definitely a 20th Century term.

The term “boondoggle” was published in a New York Times article back in 1935 that claimed that over $3 million USD had been wasted on recreational activities for the jobless as part of the economic programs passed by Congress from 1933 to his re-election in 1936.  These programs were allegedly focused on the 3 R‘s:  Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat economic depression.  Some programs were declared unconstitutional, and others were repealed during World War II. 

However, in 1929, at the World Jamboree of Scouts in England, Robert H. Link, a scoutmaster from Rochester (NY) dubbed the standard plaited lanyard consisting of a cord worn around the neck or shoulder to hold a knife or whistle and as worn by boy scouts the world over, to be a “boondoggle.”   Such a lanyard was presented at the Boy Scout Jamboree to Lord Baden-Powell, Prince of Wales who was the founder of the Boy Scouts movement.

The New York Times adopted “boondoggle” and used it to describe the handicrafts that were being produced in the Depression-era programs and it very quickly became entrenched as a part of every day language.

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