A “stemwinder” is a rousing speech. “Stemwinder” has also meant a keyless watch and geared logging locomotive. The “stemwinder” speech has been cited in print since at least 1890.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
stem-winder n. U.S. (a) a keyless watch; (b) a geared logging locomotive (Webster, 1911); (c) slang a person or thing that is first-rate; also, an enterprising or energetic person; an impassioned talker or public speaker; (d) slang a rousing speech.
1875 E. H. Knight Pract. Dict. Mech. 2373/2 Some of the stem-winders are so constructed that by pushing in the pendant it is [etc.].
1892 A. C. Gunter Miss Dividends (1893) 68 ‘Ain’t he a stem-winder, though?’ goes on the boy. ‘He was the most popular man on the line when it was built.’
1926 in J. F. Dobie Rainbow in Morning 85 He’s a stemwinder and go-getter.
1942 L. V. Berrey & M. Van den Bark Amer. Thes. Slang §422/5 Speech-maker,‥stemwinder, vitalics, a forceful talker.
1973 T. H. White Making of President 1972 (1974) viii. 210 After all the calls to unity,‥a stemwinder in the old tradition from Hubert Humphrey,‥appearances by Muskie and Kennedy, Sargent Shriver was formally nominated for Vice-President.
Dictionary of Americanisms:
A glossary of words and phrases usually regarded as peculiar to the United States
By John Russell Bartlett
Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company
Stem-Winder. A watch wound by a key affixed to the stem
16 October 1890, Topeka (KS) Weekly Capital, “Anthony at Valley Falls,” pg. 2:
His speech was a stem-winder and was enthusiastically received, men cheering and women waving their handkerchiefs.
Mam’ Linda: a novel
By Will Nathaniel Harben
New York, NY: Harper & Bros.
“No man ever had a better campaign document than the speech Jabe Parsons’ wife made. Gee whiz! it was a stem-winder; it set folks to laughin’ at Wiggin, and that was the worst thing that ever happened to him.”
Polk Cline’s Book
By George Polk Cline
Larned, KS: The Author
It was the universal opinion of all present except the judge that the speech was a “stem-winder, a soul-searcher, a far-reacher, a sledge-hammer, an extinguisher, an annihilator.”
Hatchet Jobs and Hardball:
The Oxford dictionary of American political slang
By Grant Barrett
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
stemwinder n. any event, person, orthing of exceptionalcharacter; (hence) an impassioned public speech or one who givessuch speeches.
1892 Gunter Miss Divid. (1893) 68 in OED:
“Ain’t he a stem-winder, though?” goes on the boy. “He was the most popular man on the line when it was built.”
1896 in H. Vachell in Overland Monthly XXVIII (Aug.) 170:
I’ll give thereaders of the Enquirer a stemwinder. I can make ‘em wiggle.
1940 Stevens Point Daily Journal (Wisc.) (Sept. 13) 16:
He told them that while the speech might look like “American history"to Mr. Roosevelt, it looked like a stemwinder to him.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Saturday, September 10, 2011 • Permalink