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March 27, 2008

Slang of the Week: logrolling (noun)
exchanging favors (often in a dishonest or corrupt way) for mutual gain

"'Yon Yonson’s book I'm from Wisconsin is one of the most scintillating lumberjack stories ever told," wrote Jack, in a flagrant example of logrolling. He was hoping his friend Yonson would write an equally complimentary blurb for his movie Have Ax, Will Travel.

Celebrity quote:
"When book reviewing was anonymous, a reviewer might puff the writings of a friend in half a dozen different periodicals, perhaps in the hope and expectation that this friend would puff his own forthcoming volume. This reciprocality [sic] of puffery was prevalent in London twenty or thirty years ago; it was then denounced as 'literary log-rolling,' and it has not entirely disappeared."
— Brander Matthews in the New York Times

Since my book came out a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been very attuned to all matters relating to publicity. Of course, we've all seen the movie trailers where the name of the reviewer is written in incredibly tiny print so that you won't notice it’s from a newspaper with a circulation of ten. Recently, I’ve also seen a number of stories about the prolific Amazon top reviewers who comment on so much literature that they appear to read three books a day, spurring conjecture that they are paid for their positive comments.

This week, my attention was drawn to the term logrolling in an Entertainment Weekly essay by Stephen King. He had really liked the movie Jumper (which set him apart from most movie critics) but since he was friends with one of the executive producers, his editor nixed a column on it. Whether or not he actually thought it was good, his personal connection would make his recommendation suspect.

This term is far from new. The quote above was written in 1921 and Mathews notes that it was already happening in the nineteenth century. He calls it 'literary' because it is not the only kind of logrolling. The figurative use of the word first appeared in the 1820s to describe exchanges of political favors; often, this referred to Senators and Representatives who agreed to support a colleague's bill in exchange for a vote for theirs—still a common practice. However, it began to be associated with literary reviews in the mid-nineteenth century. In both senses, it is a comparison to the mutual efforts required to transport heavy timber; the Oxford English Dictionary cites the saying, "You roll my log, and I'll roll yours."

What’s New?
Bookstore appearance tonight. If you live in Boston and you’ve ever wondered if that picture of me on the website was taken twenty years ago (I always wonder that about columnists) I'll be reading from my book at the Harvard Coop tonight at 7:00. (If you can’t make it, there’s also a video at

Cruelty Quiz. What’s your insult IQ? Test your knowledge of ten-dollar words, slang and insider language with a "Cruelty Quiz" at

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: How to Talk American: A Guide to Our Native Tongues by James Marshall Crotty. While the book doesn’t contain a section on lumberjacks, I found a few fun lumber-related terms like Stumptown, jag of wood and twitch road in the chapters on tree-heavy states Maine and Oregon.