nuclear option

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Sep 10 14:07:51 UTC 2009

On Thu, Sep 10, 2009 at 9:35 AM, Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at> wrote:
> Republicans have been using the term "nuclear option" of the Democrats
> threat to use the reconciliation process in the Senate to pass health
> care reform and avoid a filibuster.  I last recall "nuclear option"
> being used by Senate Democrats in 2005 with reference to Cheney's
> threat to use a wrinkle in Senate rules to change the filibuster rule
> by simple majority vote.  I don't know if it's used as a political
> metaphor before that. I sense that the term has generalized to mean a
> legitimate but unfair political tactic, at least from the viewpoint of
> those opposed to it and using the term.  It doesn't seem to get used
> by those supporting the tactic.

That's true this time around, but in 2005 it was actually Senate
Republicans who introduced the term -- first Trent Lott, then Bill
Frist and others. Eventually they backed off and euphemized it as
"constitutional option". Some history here:

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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