• A lengthy, rambling address or statement made by a member of a governing body in order to stall or completely impede certain actions of that body, especially in the absence of alternative legislative action; also, the act of making such an address

  • A mercenary or unaligned soldier taking part in a military armed conflict outside of their home country


  • To speak at great length for the purposes of stalling or halting a legislative action under consideration


Have you ever found yourself listening to someone and started suspecting that they were just talking to kill time? It’s usually safe to assume that when people speak to us, they have something constructive or relevant to say, but sometimes it becomes clear as we listen that they only meant to stall, whether they ultimately impacted the eventual result or not. If you find yourself on the receiving end of such a filibuster there’s not much you can do but wait it out - everyone should have their say, even when they could use it more efficiently.

A filibuster is an extremely protracted speech which a member of a legislative body makes in order to slow or completely halt the advance of some proposal or legislation that the body is considering passing. Most of the time, elected representatives opposes an unfavorable measure by voting against it, but this only works when they have enough supporting “nay” votes from their colleagues to outnumber the “yea” votes. Elected officials who don’t have the numbers to defeat a bill with votes still have one remaining tactic: they can get up to the speaker’s podium and make a filibuster in the hopes that the faction in favor of the proposal will choose to abandon the measure rather than wait out the dissenter’s long, rambling address.

Each legislative or deliberative body has its own procedural rules, so in order for a filibuster to be successfully made, the rules must allow for a member to speak for as long as they wish. For example, while the US Senate permits each member at least one unlimited turn at the podium per measure, giving any senator the capacity to oppose any proposal with a filibuster, the US House of Representatives imposes a two-minute time limit on all speakers, making the practice impossible. A filibuster also demands considerable political credibility from the one implementing the tactic, as their colleagues or constituents may view their obstinacy as obstructionist or wasting time. The political cost to such a maneuver is especially draining if the official veers off-topic, as they are permitted to do in order to fill the expansive amount of time required for filibuster to be effective. As such, they are used sparingly, only for those occasions where a legislator fundamentally and vehemently resists certain actions.

Filibuster can also be used as a verb to indicate the act of issuing a filibuster. For instance, a public servant who responds to increasing the military’s budget with a 10-hour tirade against the ills of violence and warmongering could be said to filibuster the budget proposal, their response itself being a filibuster.

An additional, antiquated sense of the noun form of filibuster is that of an unbound soldier or mercenary who enters an armed conflict in the hopes of influencing the outcome, especially in favor of a coup d'état. This term was particularly popular and prevalent when describing Americans who intervened in Latin and South American countries’ government affairs during the 19th century, which the Spanish saw as meddling. Whether armed for battle or for hours at the podium, if people are prepared to make (or be) a filibuster, they are determined to see their actions through to the very end!

Example: The legislative majority had stopped caving to the threat of a minority filibuster once they found the threat to be an empty one.

Example: As the most committed filibuster of the Civil Rights Act, Strom Thurmond has gone down in history as an opponent of racial equality and a symbol of bigotry.

Example: When the respected and reserved senator not only stood up to speak, but vowed to filibuster a proposed bill, people sat up and took notice.


The word filibuster originates with the 18th century Dutch word vrijbuiter, which translates literally to and serves as a cognate for “freebooter,” describing pirates and other adventurous outlaws in what is now the Caribbean Sea. The term proliferated to form the French word flibustier and the Spanish word filibustero, both of which described the aforementioned buccaneering figure, before arriving in English. The term acquired its sense as an unaligned soldier from the application of the Spanish filibustero in the 19th century to Americans engaging in and fomenting the coups and other violent revolutionary actions in Latin and South America. Experts believe the sense of filibuster as a speech impeding governmental affairs derives from the idea of the speaker aggressively overthrowing established legislative procedure in the same sense as the American mercenary interlopers.

Derivative Words

Filibusters: This form of the verb filibuster indicates when a third party is responsible for making a rambling address in front of a government body.

Example: She is so against spending tax money that she filibusters every budget vote she attends.

Filibustered: The past form of filibuster denotes when one has made an extensive speech in the past.

Example: He filibustered the proposed bill, as his voting block was too small to have any chance of voting it down.

Filibustering: The present progressive form signifies that the act of verbally obstructing proceedings is ongoing.

Example: As soon as the notorious obstructionist started filibustering, her colleagues began filing out of the room.

In Literature

From Paul Harding's Tinkers:

O, Senator, drop your trousers! Loosen your cravat! Eschew your spats and step into that shallow, teeming world of mayflies and dragonflies and frogs’ eyes staring eye-to-eye with your own, and the silty bottom. Cease your filibuster against the world God gave you.

In this passage, the speaker is exhorting the politician not only to take notice of the beautiful natural world all around, but to actually participate in it instead of opposing it with endless, empty rambling, or filibuster. Harding plays on the idea of the filibuster as an instrument of parliamentary obstruction by reframing it as a tool to obstruct one’s senses and interconnections with the world.


  • Filibuster fills time until your opponent gives up.

  • If you can’t muster up enough votes to stop a bill, you have to filibuster it.


Government, Politics, Democracy, Rules, Procedures, Law, Speaking

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of filibuster. Did you use filibuster in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.