Independent lickspittle

It is now time for lickspittle as our word of the week—I have had notes sitting in my folder for quite a while. After 17 days of being courted by both parties, Australia’s three country independents have decided that Labor will form the Australian Government. For these 17 days these men where the most important men in Australia and were praised by all around them (8 September 2010).

Earlier Mr Wilkie a Tasmanian Independent, not included in the trinity, had given his support to Labor. The trinity have managed to negotiate some Parliamentary reforms and to get their requirements on the political agenda:

  • Mr Oakeshott got $75 million for the Port Macquarie-based hospital and an offer of a ministerial position
  • Mr Windsor gets broadband and a climate change policy that he likes
  • Mr Katter, with the reforms in place, has supported the Liberal Opposition

However, now that the decision has been made, the obsequiousness of the Liberal politicians towards the independents has disappeared quicker than the carbon pollution reduction scheme, leaving only Labor politicians tugging their forelocks.

A lickspittle is a relatively new word and equivalent to the Latin-derived sycophant. It was first attested from 1825 and refers to a person who behaves obsequiously to those in power. It is one of the words that Ambrose Bierce saw important enough to redefine in his Devil’s Dictionary:

Lickspittle, n. … Lickspittling
is more detestable than blackmailing, precisely as the business of a
confidence man is more detestable than that of a highway robber; and
the parallel maintains itself throughout, for whereas few robbers will
 cheat, every sneak will plunder if he dare.

The word has a distinguished political genesis having been derived from one of the poems of Jonathan Swift, the 18th century satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels (A Libel On The Reverend Dr. Delany, And His Excellency John, Lord Carteret):

A genius for all stations fit,

Whose meanest talent is his wit:

His heart too great, though fortune little,

To lick a rascal statesman’s spittle …

So let us hope that the lickspittling stops and our politicians start working for what is best for the country rather than what is needed to keep power.