Today's Broadcast(from: Merriam Webster's Words for the wise, a daily summary of the history of words focusing on a different element of lexicon history each week-day)
Today we mark the 1840 birth of Thomas Nast. Thomas Nast was the editorial cartoonist whose devastating and relentless drawings were credited with helping bring about the downfall of Tammany Hall’s corrupt Boss Tweed. He also drew a donkey to symbolize the Democratic Party in an 1870 cartoon entitled A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion; four years later, Nast pictured the Republican Party as an elephant in his cartoon The Third Term Panic.
Nast’s effects on politics were long-lasting, the elephant and donkey survive as symbols, while Tweed (and eventually, Tammany Hall itself) were laid low. But lest you think Nast was interested only in tearing down, remember that we also can thank the artist for helping influence our modern images of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, and John Bull.
And yes, we will answer that pesky question of whether Thomas Nast loaned his last name to the adjective nasty. He did not. Nasty has been part of our lexicon since the 1300s; the closest the cartoonist came to the word was probably a contemporary identification with the sense of nasty meaning “psychologically unsettling; trying.”
Questions or comments? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Production and research support for Word for the Wise comes from Merriam-Webster, publisher of language reference books and CDs including Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.