fever swamp

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The original term sprang from the belief that the swamp itself caused illnesses such as malaria and cholera, before the role of disease vectors was understood. The political use of the term is generally attributed to the neoconservative journalist Midge Decter, as a metaphor for right-wing political extremists as breeding ground for crazy ideas.


fever swamp (plural fever swamps)

  1. An area of stagnant water and hot temperatures that acts as a breeding ground for disease vectors such as mosquitos.
    • 1901, Winston Churchill, The Crisis:
      Then Christmas Day dawned, and there was Vicksburg lifted two hundred feet above the fever swamps, her court-house shining in the morning sun.
    • 2012, Jennifer McVeigh, The Fever Tree, →ISBN:
      In the evenings he sat on deck with a lantern, and men and women gathered round to listen to him telling tales about fever swamps, elephant hunts and mountains infested with leopard.
    • 2013, W.A.L. Elmslie, Among the Wild Ngoni, →ISBN:
      Explorers from Bruce to Speke, Thomson and Grant, nought to penetrate its secrets, but the malarial climate, the fever swamps and tangled forests, not to speak of wild beasts and savage men, barred the way.
    • 2016, Ralph Ellison & ‎John Callahan, Juneteenth, →ISBN:
      Into the fever swamps, they marched us . . . And they set us to work draining the swampland and toiling in the sun . . . . . . They set us to toiling . . . They took the white fleece of the cotton and the sweetness of the sugarcane and made them bitter and bloody with our toil . . .
  2. (derogatory) A group of political extremists or an area that is dominated by them.
    • 2010, Nathan Abrams, Norman Podhoretz and Commentary Magazine, →ISBN:
      Only a few years earlier, the neocons had been denouncing them as coming from "the fever swamps", in the words of Decter.
    • 2012, Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin, →ISBN:
      Rafferty was a florid public speaker and aspiring demagogue who emerged from what even a conservative like William Rusher described as “the fever swamp of rightist kookery in southern California.
    • 2013, Michael Lind, Up from Conservatism, →ISBN, page 98:
      The neoconservatives, who only a few years before had been denouncing the far-right conservatism of "the fever swamps" (Midge Decter's term), had caught a bad case of far-right fever themselves.
  3. (derogatory) A set of extreme and crazy political positions.
    • 2008, Arianna Huffington, Right is Wrong, →ISBN, page 236:
      The Right's ever-vigilant Slogan Division focus-grouped a winner on immigration: "No amnesty for lawbreakers." No "shamnesty." And that is where the Right made its stand, right in the middle of the Minutemen fever swamps.
    • 2012, William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom', →ISBN:
      It is worth it, before making a final comment on the grander points involved, to climb out of the polemical fever swamps and look with a little detachment on the purely economic question.
    • 2013, John Heilemann & ‎Mark Halperin, Double Down, →ISBN, page 12:
      But Obama's plunge into the fever swamp of birtherism was just the latest detour on what had already been a long, strange trip—with many miles still to go.