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9.02.2006

WOTD: Carpetbagger

carpetbagger
Origin: 1868

Before the grip (1879), the suitcase (1902), the tote bag (1900), and the Backpack (1914) had their days as travel accessories of choice, Americans traveling light packed their belongings in carpetbags, invented in the 1830s. Long before Samsonite, the carpetbag was valued for its durability, for it was made of two sturdy pieces of carpet sewn together to which handles were attached.

It was this carpetbag that Northern adventurers brought with them to the South after the Civil War, having little in the way of luggage to slow them down as they sought political office and profit in the land of their defeated enemy. North and South, carpetbaggers were denounced. "A great deal of bitterness has been shown in all the conventions in regard to the presence, and great prominence as members, of what the Louisiana people call 'carpet-baggers'--men, that is, who are new-comers in the country," wrote a Northern reporter in 1868. "I would sooner trust the Negro than the white scalawag or carpet-bagger," declared one unreconstructed white southerner in that same year.

Carpetbagger has outlived the carpetbag. It still refers to someone who has newly come to a place with pretensions to take charge, especially a politician.

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I read somewhere that Hillary Clinton was called a cartpetbagger, and I thought it had something to do with lesbianism.

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