So what is a Slush Fund?

So what is a Slush Fund?

Jul 22
So what is a Slush Fund?

It is sweltering outside. We have had 10 days in a row of temperature highs between mid 80’s and low 90’s. There’s not even much relief when the sun goes down. So wouldn’t your mind start turning to a Slush, that tempting combination of half melted ice and fruit flavorings. Yum!

So what is a Slush Fund? If a Slush is a fruit and ice drink, why has the phrase Slush Fund taken on an air of furtiveness and criminality? The dictionary defines a Slush Fund as an amount of money raised for undesignated purposes, most likely corrupt, such as bribery or graft. Clearly these two items must have separate derivations.

So for the purposes of this discussion, we are clearly NOT talking about a tempting cold drink of half frozen ice and fruit flavoring.

In the age of sail,when great wooden ships plied the oceans and seas of the world, carrying foodstuffs and cooking those foodstuffs was a tricky process. The primary menu of a ship of the line would have been an almost unbreakable bread called very appropriately “hard tack”. This had little holes which made it easier to bang the bread on the table in order to remove the weevils. There were also dried peas which could be rehydrated and turned into mush. And then there was salted meat, most likely beef or pork. In the process of boiling the meat, which was necessary as a way of removing as much salt as possible, there would be a runoff of the fat or grease and this was referred to as Slosh or Slush.

As unpleasant as this product sounds, and I really have no doubt that it was disgusting, it had a market value due to numerous uses a lubricant or lamp oil. It became a prerogative of the sailors of the British Navy, and there were precious few prerogatives available to the “tars” as British Sailors were referred to in slang, to gather the slush in empty casks and upon arrival in a port to sell the casks of slush. The money thus derived was put into a “slush fund” to be used, principally by the cook, to buy little luxuries such as fresh meat, vegetables or cheeses.

In 1839, William McNally wrote in his book Evils & Abuses in Naval & Merchant Service, “The sailors in the navy are allowed salt beef. From this provision, when cooked nearly all the fat boils off; this is carefully skimmed and put into empty beef or pork barrels, and sold, and the money so received is called the slush fund.” Just a guess, but I don’t think Mr. McNally approved. Over the years, perhaps because of Mr. McNally, or just because of the unpleasant nature of the source of the slush fund, it has taken on a negative connotation.

Incidentally, the expression Pork Barrel, commonly used to refer to federally funded projects of dubious national necessity that members of Congress use to reward loyal supporters and constituents, is probably derived in the same manner.

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