1. U.S. Politics.
    1. the use of irregular or obstructive tactics by a member of a legislative assembly to prevent the adoption of a measure generally favored or to force a decision against the will of the majority.
    2. an exceptionally long speech, as one lasting for a day or days, or a series of such speeches to accomplish this purpose.
    3. a member of a legislature who makes such a speech.
  2. an irregular military adventurer, especially one who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country to foment or support a revolution.

verb (used without object)

  1. U.S. Politics. to impede legislation by irregular or obstructive tactics, especially by making long speeches.
  2. to act as an irregular military adventurer, especially for revolutionary purposes.

verb (used with object)

  1. U.S. Politics. to impede (legislation) by irregular or obstructive tactics, especially by making long speeches.


  1. the process or an instance of obstructing legislation by means of long speeches and other delaying tactics
  2. Also called: filibusterer a legislator who engages in such obstruction
  3. a buccaneer, freebooter, or irregular military adventurer, esp a revolutionary in a foreign country


  1. to obstruct (legislation) with delaying tactics
  2. (intr) to engage in unlawful and private military action

1580s, flibutor “pirate,” probably ultimately from Dutch vrijbuiter “freebooter,” a word which used of pirates in the West Indies in Spanish (filibustero) and French (flibustier) forms, either or both of which gave the word to American English (see freebooter).

Used 1850s and ’60s of lawless adventurers from the U.S. who tried to overthrow Central American governments. The legislative sense is not in Bartlett (1859) and seems not to have been in use in U.S. legislative writing before 1865. Probably the extension in sense is because obstructionist legislators “pirated” debate or overthrew the usual order of authority. Not technically restricted to U.S. Senate, but that’s where the strategy works best.


1853 in both the freebooting and the legislative senses, from filibuster (n.). Related: Filibustered; filibustering.

A strategy employed in the United States Senate, whereby a minority can delay a vote on proposed legislation by making long speeches or introducing irrelevant issues. A successful filibuster can force withdrawal of a bill. Filibusters can be ended only by cloture.

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