Filibuster

Does this have meaning outside politics? Can it be used to refer to a general obstacle?

In politics, a filibuster is when a legislator makes a long speech or takes some other action meant to delay and therefore prevent the adoption of legislation. It’s basically a rules loophole, that lets one person prevent a measure from passing.

Here’s a general definition:

the use of irregular or obstructive tactics by a member of a legislative assembly to prevent the adoption of a measure generally favored or to force a decision against the will of the majority.

However, I saw the word use in a non-political context – some immovable obstacle (I don’t remember what, tragically) was referred to as a “filibuster.” Is this an alternate usage?

…no, I don’t think so.

There is one other genuine definition of filibuster:

A filibuster (from the Spanish filibustero), also known as a freebooter, is someone who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country or territory to foster or support a political revolution or secession.

This is a specific person who tries to bring down a foreign government. The etymology of the word clearly supports this usage:

The English term “filibuster” derives from the Spanish filibustero, itself deriving originally from the Dutch vrijbuiter, ‘privateer, pirate, robber’ (also the root of English freebooter)

The military reference is clearly the original meaning. So, the larger question is: how did this word come to refer to legislative obstructionism?

Here’s one theory:

Probably the extension in sense is because obstructionist legislators “pirated” debate or overthrew the usual order of authority.

I did some searching for the word and excluded “senate,” “legislative,” and “congress.” I didn’t find much.

…and that’s about it. Everything else was referring to the aforementioned two usages.

So, other than the legislative procedure or an actual military insurgent, I don’t think filibuster is used to refer to a general obstacle.

Why I Looked It Up

I wish I could remember, because after researching, it seems like this was an outlier or even a simply incorrect usage.

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