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(See also ABEYANCE.)
filibuster The use of irregular or obstructive tactics, such as long speeches or trivial objections, by a minority legislator to prevent or hinder the passage or consideration of legislation generally favored by the majority; the use of such tactics to force the passage of unpopular legislation; to waste time for the purpose of obstruction. The filibuster, long a staple of U.S. Congressional politics, derives from the French filibustier ‘pirate’ and the British flibuster ‘rover, traveler.’ These French pirates terrorized the Spanish West Indies in the 17th century. The name filibusters was later applied to illegal bands of Americans and Texans who, in the 1850s, entered Central America to foment revolution. Soon the term was applied to anyone who took part in illegal or irregular warfare or other obstructionist activity against a government. The transition to its current meaning was then but a short jump.
A filibuster was indulged in which lasted … for nine continuous calendar days. (Congressional Record, February 11, 1890)
hold at bay To fend off one’s literal or figurative assailant by taking the offense, thereby bringing about a standstill as both parties are poised and ready to attack. This expression is said to derive from the modern French être aux bois ‘to be at close quarters with the barking dogs.’ Originally a hunting phrase dating from the 16th century, hold or keep at (a) bay refers to a situation in which a hunted animal, unable to flee further, turns to defend itself at close quarters. Figurative use, also dating from the 1500s, is now heard more frequently than the literal.
By riding … keep death as it were at a bay. (Francis Fuller, Medicina Gymnastica, 1711)
play for time To employ dilatory tactics to stave off defeat; to postpone making a decision, to drag out negotiations. This expression probably derives from those sports in which one team monopolizes control in the remaining minutes of a game in order to prevent a last minute turnaround and victory by the opposing team.
stonewall To obstruct or block legislation; to delay or impede an activity. This term was applied to the Civil War General Thomas J. Jackson, in honor of his steadfastness at the Battle of Bull Run. The expression is also a cricket term for an exclusively defensive or delaying strategy. Its meaning was subsequently extended to include stubborn blocking and delaying tactics on a government level.
Obstruction did not merely consist in stonewalling Government business. (Contemporary Review, November, 1916)
As a result of its use in the Watergate hearings, stonewall took on the more specific meaning of the obstruction of or the resistance to government inquiry or investigation, as through vagueness and noncooperation.