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Glossary of political idioms and buzzwords

This glossary includes idioms and buzzwords that can be used when talking or writing about politics and related topics. Each word or phrase is followed by its part of speech (adjective, noun, verb, etc.), and in some cases UK English or US English is also indicated. If the word has a negative connotation it's derogatory and this is indicated by adding "derog" to its part of speech. The definition is next, followed by an example sentence that shows the word being used in a context that will help you to understand what it means.

Antifa (US noun): a left-wing US political movement that actively opposes fascists, white supremacists and other far-right groups – If fascists march in public, Antifa groups turn up to fight them. (Note: portmanteau of anti-fascist)

astroturfing (US noun): the creation of a false impression of grassroots support for a political candidate or party, esp by buying social media support – Astroturfing is just one of many methods used to cheat in elections.

bleeding-heart liberal (noun, derog): used as an insult towards someone who expresses concern for people who are suffering injustice of some sort – Ben can't stand those bleeding-heart liberals who moan about all the injustice in the world.

blue-collar (adjective): a blue-collar worker uses manual skills or does physical work – We lived in a blue-collar neighbourhood, so no-one had much money. (Note: the opposite of "white-collar")

Brexit (UK noun): used to refer to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union in 2020 – Most people voted to leave the EU in the Brexit referendum. (Note: portmanteau of "British exit")

buzzword (noun): a word that has become trendy or fashionable – His speech was full of fancy-sounding buzzwords like "synergistic" and "paradigm shift".

checks and balances (noun): various forces in a political system that help to stop one party or person, or one arm of government, from becoming too powerful – A democracy can easily turn into a dictatorship if the system of checks and balances breaks down.

cisgender (adjective, also cis): having a gender identity that matches your assigned sex and gender at birth – If you were born male and now identify as being a heterosexual man, you're a straight cisgender male. | Yup, the contemptible creep that manufactured the term “cis” has serious problems. (Note: in gender theory "cisgender" and "transgender" are opposites)

civil disobedience (noun): non-violent protest in which laws are disregarded – Our civil disobedience campaign involved lying on the road to stop cars from entering immigration buildings.

class struggle (noun): the struggle of the working class for a more equal share of political power and economic security, usually in opposition to a powerful upper class – Class struggle is on the rise due to the growing gap between rich and poor. (also "class warfare")

climate denial (noun): the refusal to accept that climate change is real and is caused by human activity – Most of the scientists backing climate denial are being paid by the fossil fuel industry. (also "climate change denial")

critical theory (noun): the analysis of power structures in society and the study of how they're related to inequality, injustice, racial prejudice and other social issues – I loved the works of Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault that we studied in our critical theory course. (Note: "critical race theory" focuses on the impact of power structures on race relations and racism)

crony capitalism (noun, derog): an economic system in which corrupt government officials work with greedy business owners to enrich each other, often at taxpayers' expense – Crony capitalism could be the most widespread economic system in the world at this time.

culture war (noun): a divisive public debate between groups in society with contrasting values, beliefs, and goals – My progressive sister and our conservative parents are on opposite sides of the culture wars.

dog whistle (noun, derog): a political message that triggers prejudice, fear or bias in the people it's aimed at – The far right's using an image of dark-skinned people climbing over a border fence as a dog whistle to racists.

dove (noun): someone who believes in using peaceful methods like diplomacy rather than war to solve international disputes – The doves in Congress couldn't get enough politicians to vote for peace talks instead of war. (Note: the opposite of "hawk")

echo chamber (noun): an environment, usually online, in which people with similar views share opinions, articles, cartoons, etc. that echo these views, and in which other views are not tolerated – I found this white-supremacist echo chamber online and soon I was thinking maybe all their racist rubbish was true.

fake news (noun): a deliberately false report presented as real news in order to mislead or deceive readers – If a report in your social media feed isn't from a big news site, it could easily be fake news.

fearmongering (noun): the creation of fear for political reasons – To get more votes, they resorted to fearmongering by spreading fake news about a coming economic collapse. (also "scaremongering")

filibuster (US verb): to deliberately delay or prevent a parliamentary vote by making a very long speech – Opposition members can filibuster all day if they want to.

firebrand (noun): someone who uses fiery speeches to persuade others to join them in taking strong political action – Malcolm X was a young firebrand who inspired others to join the struggle for Black civil rights.

fiscal conservative (noun): someone who believes in small government, lower taxes, reduced social welfare and minimal economic regulation – Since the 1970s, fiscal conservatives have been reducing welfare support in order to cut taxes.

freedom of speech (noun): the right to freely express opinions and ideas without the fear of being censored, arrested or put in jail – Having freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say something offensive without facing consequences like being cancelled on social media. (also "free speech" or "freedom of expression")

gerrymander (verb): to change the borders of one or more electoral districts in order to give one party an unfair advantage in future elections – The ruling party got control of electoral boards and used them to gerrymander dozens of electorates. (also "jerrymander")

get out the vote (political slogan): used to encourage people to vote in countries like the USA where voting isn't compulsory – Thanks to the success of our "get out the vote" campaign, we won the election. (also "GOTV" as an acronym)

(the) Green Party (noun): a political party that aims to protect natural environments and endangered species, and minimize climate change – I'm voting for the Green Party this time. (also "the Greens")

greenwashing (noun, derog): an advertising campaign that promotes a false image of environmental responsibility in order to increase a company's sales and profits – Many companies that produce environmentally-damaging products like insecticides use greenwashing to create an eco-friendly image. (also "greenwash" and "green sheen")

hate speech (noun): speech or text that encourages hatred or violence against people because of their race, religion, gender, sexual preference or political beliefs – In many countries it's illegal to express hate speech of the sort used by fascists and white supremacists.

hawk (noun, derog): someone who believes in using violence or war to solve disputes rather than using peaceful methods like diplomacy – Have any of these hawks seen the horrors of war close up? (Note: the opposite of "dove")

hot button issue (noun): an issue or subject that people have strong feelings about, and that can lead to serious disagreements – Hot button issues like climate change and same-sex marriage are dividing the country like never before.

identity politics (noun): political activity intended to protect the rights of a social group identified by something like ethnicity, sexual preference, gender, etc. – In the 70s it was called "the politics of liberation", but now it's called "identity politics".

illegal immigrant (noun, derog): someone who enters a country illegally or stays longer than they're legally permitted to – They're refugees from war-torn countries, so why do you keep calling them illegal immigrants? (also "illegal alien")

incel (noun): a member of an online community of mostly young men who identify as cisgender heterosexual males who can't attract women, and blame this on "female hostility" instead of their own lack of social skills - Did they arrest that crazy incel who's been threatening women online? (Note: portmanteau of "involuntary celibate")

intersectionality (noun): the study of the effects of being part of more than one oppressed group, esp. in terms of prejudice or receipt of welfare – Within the context of intersectionality, a poor black woman suffers the triple handicap of being poor, being black, and being a woman, all of which can be disadvantages.

jingoism (noun): an overly nationalistic belief that one's own country is better than others – Should we elect someone who uses jingoism to get votes? (Note: this and related terms like "jingoistic" are used to show disapproval of this form of extreme nationalism)

jobs for the boys (idiom): the practice of using a powerful position to give jobs to friends or relatives – Instead of giving the positions to qualified people, it was jobs for the boys yet again.

keyboard warrior (noun, derog): an often timid person who makes aggressive or offensive political statements online because anonymity shields them from real-world consequences – Climate scientists were aggressively attacked online by faceless keyboard warriors.

kleptocracy (noun): a system of government in which leaders use their power to enrich themselves by stealing their country's wealth – Any government will become a kleptocracy if corruption becomes normalized.

lame duck (US noun): a politician or elected official whose period in office is coming to an end and who can't run for office again – She was a lame duck president for her final year in power.

lawfare (noun): the control of the legal system and courts by a government in order to crush opposition movements and punish opponents – Unpopular regimes in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar have used lawfare to imprison their opponents.

lefty (noun): a person who supports left-wing politicians and socialist policies – Robert has always been a lefty, even when many of his friends moved to the right. (also "leftie")

media mogul (noun, derog): a powerful media owner who can use their power to ensure their own political bias is reflected in their media company's content – Media mogul Rupert Murdoch's Fox News broadcast biased coverage and fake news to boost public support for right-wing candidates. (also "media tycoon")

military-industrial complex (noun): military leaders and weapons manufacturers working together to encourage governments to spend more money on military equipment and weapons – In his farewell address in 1961, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the danger the military-industrial complex posed to world peace.

Millennials (noun): the generation of people born from 1981 to 1996 – Kate's a millennial born in 1985, so she grew up in the first few years of the Internet age. (Note: other generations include Baby Boomers (1948-64), Gen X (1965-80), Gen Z (1997-2012), and Gen Alpha (early 2010s to mid-2020s))

muckraking (noun): the practice of spreading damaging information about a famous person like a celebrity or a politician, usually for financial or political gain – The prime minister accused opposition leaders of muckraking.

mudslinging (noun): the practice of making damaging accusations in public in order to destroy someone’s reputation or image – There was even more mudslinging than usual before this year's election.

neocon (noun, derog): a right-wing politician or political adviser with extremely conservative political, economic or religious views that most people no longer accept – A group of neocons convinced president George W. Bush to start wars the US lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Note: abbreviation of "neoconservative")

neoliberal (adjective): related to neoliberalism, an extreme form of free-market capitalism that favours the sale of state assets, lowering taxes and cutting government spending on health, education and welfare programs – The International Monetary Fund wouldn't lend to countries that didn't adopt neoliberal economic policies.

Obamacare (noun): the colloquial name of a US federal act signed into law by President Barack Obama that improved access to health insurance and state-funded health care for millions of US citizens – Thanks to Obamacare, our grandma got the treatment she needed. (Note: the official name of the act is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act)

on the take (idiom): a government official who is "on the take" regularly accepts bribes – Nearly all of the cops here are on the take, aren't they?

political influencer (noun): an Internet celebrity who uses their social media platform to persuade followers to vote for a particular political party or candidate – Political parties pay political influencers to help their candidates win elections.

political prisoner (noun): someone who is jailed because of their political activities – Nearly all of this country's political prisoners are accused of insulting the royal family.

(the) politics of fear (phrase): the deliberate creation of fear about something to get votes or manipulate public opinion – The government is using the politics of fear to get us to distrust the Chinese.

pro-choice (adjective): believing that pregnant women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or not – My sisters are all pro-choice.

pro-life (adjective): believing that pregnant women don't have the right to have an abortion – Cathy is a pro-life Christian who still hasn't forgiven me for having an abortion.

red tape (noun): government rules and regulations that are considered too complicated or time-consuming by many people – I can't believe how much red tape I had to get through to extend my visa.

right-winger (noun, derog): someone with conservative views who supports right-wing politicians and movements – Stuart became an extreme right-winger who goes to fascist marches and does Nazi salutes.

same-sex marriage (noun): the marriage of two men or two women – How many countries have legalized same-sex marriage? (also "gay marriage")

scab (noun, derog): a worker who refuses to join a strike, or someone who takes the place of a worker who's on strike – We threw stones at the scabs going into our factory.

sense of entitlement (phrase, derog): the feeling of being part a privileged group with an inborn right to wealth and power – The sense of entitlement these rich kids have makes me sick.

shock jock (noun, derog): a radio presenter who expresses extreme political positions, usually far-right, in order to increase their audience – Do shock jocks really believe the offensive stuff they say?

(the) silent majority (noun): a large number of people with similar political views who rarely talk about them – Conservatives claim the silent majority is made up of conservatives, while progressives claim the silent majority supports them.

snowflake (US noun, derog): a term used by right-wing people to insult liberal or progressive people – I can't stand those liberal snowflakes who lecture everyone on human rights and global warming.

social justice warrior (noun): a person who fights for human rights and justice – Once she realized what was really going on, Angelina became a social justice warrior.

spin (noun): if politicians put spin on an event, they try to make it seem favourable to them and their side of politics – No matter how much spin they put on it, the government is being blamed for the situation.

status symbol (noun): an object that someone uses to display their wealth or high social position – Corrupt politicians are easy to spot if they spend what they've stolen on status symbols like expensive cars.

structural racism (noun): racism that's embedded in a society's institutions, as in lower state budgets for schools and hospitals in districts with higher populations of a race facing prejudice – Racial inequalities can't be addressed until structural racism is studied and understood. (also "systemic racism")

swing (noun): a change in the percentage of votes that competing parties or candidates get from one election to the next – There's been a huge swing to the Liberal Party in this year's election.

swing voter (noun): someone who doesn't always vote for the same political party – There must be a lot of swing voters living there now.

talking point (noun): an interesting or important subject for discussion – What were the main talking points in this year's G20 meeting?

(be on) the right side of history (idiom): to do something that history shows was ethically correct – We knew we were on the right side of history when we fought the fascists in World War Two. (Note: the opposite of "on the wrong side of history")

think tank (noun): an organization that does research and makes suggestions in areas like economic policy, political strategy and international relations – Think tanks are ideologically divided, with those financed by conservatives developing conservative policies, and vice versa. (also "policy institute")

Tory (UK noun): a supporter or member of the British Conservative party – I wonder if the next UK prime minister will be a Tory?

toxic masculinity (noun): harmful behaviours such as violent aggression, sexual harassment and control over women that some men still think are acceptable expressions of masculinity – Most women hate toxic masculinity, so if men want to be popular they have to quit all that ugly stuff.

tree hugger (noun, derog): a term used to insult people who protect natural environments – If some idiot calls you a tree hugger, just ignore them. (Note: similar derogatory terms include "greenie" and "ecofreak")

ultraconservative (noun): a highly reactionary person who refuses to accept any progressive changes in society – Why did Ben suddenly become an ultraconservative?

union buster (noun): a person, group or political party that tries to destroy labour unions – He's in a gang of union busters who beat up striking workers.

untruth (noun): a euphemism that's used to avoid bluntly saying that something is "a lie" – The president's claim to have forgotten what he did is a blatant untruth.

useful idiot (noun, derog): someone who can be easily manipulated to become a propagandist's mouthpiece – The fossil fuel industry's propaganda campaign led to millions of people becoming useful idiots who spent their free time persuading others that climate change wasn't real.

wage slave (noun): someone who has no choice but to work for a wage that's barely enough to live on – Do women who work in factories still feel like wage slaves?

wage theft (noun): the crime of paying workers less than they're legally entitled to – Employers who are guilty of wage theft can be sent to jail.

warmonger (noun, derog): a politician or military leader who tries to start a war – I'd never vote for a party full of warmongers.

welfare mother (US noun): a woman who depends on government welfare payments to raise her children – Do you want your taxes being spent on things like supporting welfare mothers?

white-collar crime (noun): crimes committed by people who work in an office, such as theft of corporate or state money, identity theft and fraud – A much lower percentage of people found guilty of white-collar crimes go to jail.

woke (adjective): aware of social and political issues such as racial prejudice and structural injustice – Most of my woke friends joined the protest marches. (Note: some people on the right use "woke" as a derogatory term for progressive people)

virtue signalling (noun, derog): the expression of political or social concerns in order to make others think you're a good person – How can they accuse you of virtue signalling when you're actually helping real people? (Note: this term was invented by people who wanted new vocabulary to help them criticize social activists and woke creatives)

Contributor: Matt Errey. Matt is the author of several books including 1000 Phrasal Verbs in Context and Common English Idioms for learners, and Matt's ESL Games and Quizzes for teachers.