Discussion in 'English Only' started by Allanis, Jul 15, 2005.

  1. Allanis Member

    Hi there !

    Does anyone know the origins of this expression :

    to stonewall .. stonewalling
    ( to obstruct, hinder or delay something )

    thanks very much for your help

  2. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    A person stonewalls when they're under pressure for something they don't want to give, usually answers in a political or criminal investigation. To stonewall is to be unresponsive and/or use evasive tactics.

    Two people are in a romantic relationship and one of them wants the other to give a more definite declaration of commitment. Instead s/he stonewalls.

    The obvious imagery of a city or castle wall evokes the "siege mentality" of someone who feels pressed or harrassed for something they're not willing to give up, but I doubt if the expression goes back to Medieval times. For one thing it has a very American flavor.

    Furthermore, I don't clearly remember hearing it in any context prior to the Watergate era, and if the expression wasn't coined then it certainly flourished as never before.

    Maybe someone with an O.E.D. will come along with earlier instances-- but documentation such as they're so good at doesn't always tell you when the word became commonplace.

    You did ask for origin, so-- failing information to the contrary, it's a term of the Watergate era, made familiar by the media, meaning to hold out and give nothing under hostile investigation or interrogation.
  3. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    One of my favorite sources, etymonline, seems to have got this one wrong:

    If it was first attested in 1876, where did General Stonewall Jackson get his nickname?
  4. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Well, I asked, so I thought I owe you an answer. From the General's bio...

    This snippet doesn't really give a good explanation for the name, which I believe to mean "unyielding".

  5. la grive solitaire

    la grive solitaire Senior Member

    United States, English
    Look behind this virtual stonewall... :)
  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Used as an epithet for one who seeks to confound by dogged resistance. Chiefly applied to Thomas Jonathan (‘Stonewall’) Jackson (1824-63), Confederate general during the American Civil War.
    First reference: 1862 Texas Almanac Extra 18 Sept. 1/1 Stonewall Jackson was marching on Baltimore with 40,000 men.
  7. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    As one of the linked sources suggested, there's considerable doubt about any connection between Stonewall Jackson and the Watergate-era expression.

    The anecdote notwithstanding, this General was not known for the stubborn holding of a position, much less an unwillingness to enter the fray. His nickname, with no trace of plausible doubt, refers to his unperterbable temperament under fire. His rather placid dying words were, "Let us go across the river and rest in the shade of the trees."

    He pioneered the art of light cavalry, meaning horse-solidiery after the pistol replaced the saber as the weapon of choice. Tactically, he was mobile and flexible, gifted in the use of the ambush and the use of the forced march-- travelling unthought-of distances and showing up out of nowhere. Indeed, he was famous for engaging the enemy in two different places at the same time, so I suppose he was a pioneer in psychological warfare as well.

    Doesn't sound like your typical Nixonian underling stolidly giving stupid, unresponsive answers at a Congressional hearing.

Share This Page