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I FIND it odd that the word “toady” dates from not quite 200 years ago. One would have thought such “flatterers in hope of gaining favors” had been around long before 1826, as described in merriam-webster.com.
Imagine: Prior to Andrew Jackson’s presidency, 1829–1837, I guess the best one could say of such folks was to call them sycophants. Which, I admit, sounds a lot more classy than toadies. Jackson, however, being our first populist president, had toadies.
By the way, Jackson was preceded in the presidency by John Quincy Adams. JQA’s administration, according to Wikipedia, “was stymied time and again by a Congress controlled by opponents, and his lack of patronage networks helped politicians sabotage him.”
One might say that JQA was “toady-challenged.”
So how did a diminutive member of the family Bufonidae come to be associated with an unctuously unpleasant person?
Frogs of the family Bufonidae, aka toads, are characterized by their dry, leathery skin, short legs, and large bumps covering parotoid glands emitting a number of milky alkaloids known as butoxins.
In a striking example of political prescience, Merriam-Webster made “toady” its Word of the Day for January 11, 2014. In Recent Examples from the Web, M-W cites a Jeff Darcy cartoon, cleveland.com, November 1, 2017: “This past week, Trump and his toadies accused Hillary Clinton of collusion with Russia over the Uranium One deal and funding of the Fusion GPS/Steele Dossier on Trump.”
According to M-W, the etymology of “toady” evolves from 17th-century charlatans (it’s hard to keep good words down) and their assistants known as toadeaters. The toadeater would pretend to eat a poisonous toad. And then, miraculously, the charlatan would “save” the assistant by expelling the poison.
Of course, people today know better than to fall for schticks like that. Or maybe not.
Anyway, back in the old days, such a toadeater became symbolic of subservience and, by 1826, the word got shortened to “toady.”
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines “toady” as “1. A little or young toad. Obs.” It dates this use to an 1817 satire: “Beastly bodies, senseless nodies, venomous todies.” Then the OED gets serious: “2. A servile parasite, a sycophant, an interested flatterer.” It also references “toad-eater,” dating this scam to 1629.
My favorite OED example comes from Benjamin Disraeli in 1826: “You know what a Toadey is? That agreeable animal which you meet every day in civilised society.”
Well, yes; but I believe Disraeli was being polite. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018