So even when he’s had a pretty serious political defeat, even when he looks really depressed, Obama still has the presence of mind to use an obscure term like “shellacking” in his post-midterm-election press conference.
You know this is something that I think every president needs to go through, because the responsibilities of this office are so enormous and so many people are depending on what we do, and in the rush of activity sometimes we lose track of the ways that we connected with folks that got us here in the first place.
Now I’m not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like I did last night. I’m sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons! But I do think that this is a growth process and an evolution. And the relationship that I have had with the American people is one that built slowly, peaked at this incredible high and then during the course of the last two years, as we’ve together gone through some very difficult times, has gotten rockier and rougher.
Shellacking sounds old-fashioned to me, and I’m older than the president (which is a first for me – GW Bush was quite a bit older).
Shellac is a wood coating made from a resin derived from insects from India that’s dissolved in alcohol. How did it come to mean “get beaten up”? No one apparently knows. The BBC looked into it here, and found that it was used in tough-guy slang in the 30s and 40s, mainly in the US and Australia. In the UK they would say “he got pasted”, which is also obscure.
The best origin story I found is from the commenter Rufus T Firefly here, who said:
My personal theory is that it derives from the word “shillelagh”. A shillelagh whacking could easily become a “shellacking” over a period of time.
That would jibe with there being a lot of Irish gangsters and sports figures in the early 20th century.
Anyway, Obama’s going to need that presence of mind over the next two years!