Tuesday 15 June 2010

Talknophical Assumnacy

I'm flummoxed. Yesterday I mentioned the lovely word snollygoster meaning a dishonest politician. The OED cites this quotation from the Columbus Dispatch of 1895:

A Georgia editor kindly explains that ‘a snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy’

The problem is that the OED has no definition for either talknophical or assumnacy. It's happy to use the words but not to explain them, and I can't work them out for myself. I would guess that they are portmanteau words, but of what? Talknophical might be talk and philosophical? But then where does the N come from? Assumnacy could be assume and... obstinacy? The Reverse Alphabet Dictionary lists only four words ending nacy: effeminacy, indeterminacy, obstinacy and lunacy and none of those could have been readily guessed.

Any advance on my frail theories?

Three snollygosters talknophicating


  1. Was the editor in question an ancestor of George Bush?

  2. Assumnacy could be the result of an editor forgetting the word "assumption" (I once actually saw the word "competitious" in a newspaper instead of "competitive"). My guess is that it's a portmanteau of assume and lunacy, since the editor doesn't sound like he thinks the process is particularly sane.

    Your guess is as good as mine with talknophical, but it'll bother me for the rest of the night.

  3. The Antipodean16 June 2010 at 08:50

    No idea, although assumnacy suggested something more like supremacy to me: summit? ascend? supremacy? I read it as something along the lines of 'by the sheer force of monumental nonsensical-talkingess supreme ability,' if that makes sense. i.e. they talked their opponents to death while doing their best not to make sense, or at least not to commit to a particular position on anything.

    I think this disqualifies George Bush, because imho he sometimes tried to make sense but often couldn't. Someone who does qualify is Kevin Rudd, current Australian PM, who talks a lot and likes to use long words but seems to enjoy using them to confuse or obfuscate his position (just in case) rather than anything else. It's a phrase that he would love to use as well as one that describes him.

    Mind you, his predecessor from the other side of the political spectrum (opposite ends of the middle) was only slightly better in the 'using big words to confuse people and not antagonise other people' department.

  4. It almost sounds as if he made up all three words on the spot. I thought straight away of this exchange between Edna Krabappel and Ms Hoover in The Simpsons:


  5. My first thought on assumnacy was assume and ascendancy, but I think that's because I misread the word as assumnaNcy.

  6. So did I.
    Following the pattern of the mysterious 'n' as a connector of sorts (as talk-n-ophical)...

    a suffix of nouns of quality, state, office, etc., many of which accompany adjectives in -acious or nouns or adjectives in -ate: fallacy; papacy; legacy; delicacy; piracy."

  7. The pair "talknophical assumnancy" was made up by a Time magazine author in the late 1960s. The meaning of the phrase is basically nonsense verbiage.

    I remember this phrase because I used to use it in high school (I graduated in 1970). I was on the debate team and actually had a chance to use it in a debate. This is because under proper debate rules when an opponent uses a word or phrase where the intention is to obfuscate through the use of words that are seldom used, one can get points by taking note of this. I won points in a debate by noting that my opponent's "talknophical assumnancy was too copious for my feeble dominiative comprehension," which was nonsense pointing out my opponent's nonsense.

    1. It can't date back only to the 1960s as it appeared in print in 1895.

    2. I found this use of the word in Merriam-Webster.
      "Former President Truman may have been making a talknophical assumnacy when he said that snollygoster is what Southerners call a man born out of wedlock. Experts of the Dixie dialect rushed to their dictionaries .... They reported that a snollygoster can mean a number of things, including tadpoles and politicians. But they didn't find Truman's definition in their research."
      —Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12 November 1953

  8. Read A.Word.A.Day in my email and immediately went to the internet to find a definition for talknophical which brought me here to see the reference to your post in A.Word.A.Day!