Willard Hotel "lobbyist" myth (again)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Mar 24 20:54:55 UTC 2006

Reporters seem to love the old story about Ulysses Grant coining
"lobbyist" to describe the favor-seekers who clogged the Willard Hotel
during his administration. Barry noted the New York Times using it
back in January at the height of the Jack Abramoff scandal, and here
it is again from the National Journal:

Not the K Street Project
James A. Barnes (c) National Journal Group, Inc.

When the folks at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary threw a coming-out party
at the Willard Hotel last October for their latest big hire,
Democratic former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, it was the kind
of scene that reminded everyone that while members of Congress may
have a tough time rising above partisan divisions, ex-lawmakers have
no such problems in the private sector.
The encomiums wafted higher than the reception room's crystal
chandeliers, as partner George Mitchell, the Democratic former Senate
majority leader, introduced the firm's senior policy adviser,
Republican former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who introduced
Gephardt. No one bothered to mention that the stately Willard's grand
foyer -- choked with favor seekers after the Civil War -- had inspired
Ulysses S. Grant to coin the term "lobbyists" to describe the
importuners who collected there.

I see OED2/MWCD11 date the verb "lobby" to 1837, but what's the
earliest we have for "lobbyist"? The databases have it from 1854 (OED
has 1863) and "lobbyism" from a year before that (OED has 1883).

1853 _Debow's Review_ June 525/2 Lobbyism, the clamor of the press,
and the argument of petition, are the levers which control our
deliberative bodies.
1854 _Tioga Eagle_ (Wellsboro, Pa.) 27 Apr. 2/2 He is impervious to
the dinner and champagne assaults of the Lobbyists. His vote can only
be secured by an honest conviction.

(Newspaperarchive has some earlier hits, but they're all misdated.)

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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