ON SCALAWAGS AND CARPETBAGGERS
Today, let's have a brief, philologically unserious discussion on the origins of two Reconstruction-era terms, carpetbagger and scalawag. A carpetbagger was a person from the North who came down to the South to profit or make political gains after the Civil War, and the origin of that word is obviously a combination of carpet and bag, denoting the quality of these exploiters to travel literally with their carpets carrying all their other belongings, like a bag. Meanwhile, the word scalawag meant a Southerner who supported Republican (Northern) policymaking during the aftermath of the Civil War. This comes from a previous meaning of "worthless animal" (obviously it was pejorative), which might be named after the village of Scalloway in the Shetland islands, famed for its miniature horses. Today, both words have evolved, so this offers us an interesting snapshot into contemporary etymology: carpetbagger is a term for a politician who seeks election where they're not affiliated, and a scalawag means "naughty person", showing the pervading Confederate jargon employed today.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic. This year, I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government and Linguistics. There, I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society and wrote a thesis on Serbo-Croatian language policy, magna cum laude. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.