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Claude Rains and James Stewart in a scene from the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a senator who launches a filibuster (sense 2) in the United States Senate.


Borrowing from Spanish filibustero(pirate), from French flibustier, from Dutch vrijbuiter(freebooter), from vrij(free) + buit(booty) + -er(agent). The word has the same construction as, and is cognate to, English freebooter.


  • IPA(key): /ˈfɪlɪbʌstə(ɹ)/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: fi‧li‧bust‧er


filibuster ‎(plural filibusters)

  1. A mercenary soldier; a freebooter.
    • 1890, Lafcadio Hearn, Two Years in the French West Indies, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Bros., OCLC 48662727:
      These duties involved prodigious physical and mental exertion, in a climate deadly to Europeans. They also involved much voyaging in waters haunted by filibusters and buccaneers. But nothing appears to daunt Labat. As for the filibusters, he becomes their comrade and personal friend;—he even becomes their chaplain, and does not scruple to make excursions with them.
  2. (politics, US) A tactic (such as giving long, often irrelevant speeches) employed to delay the proceedings of, or the making of a decision by, a legislative body, particularly the United States Senate.
    • 2010 October 14, “An own goal on gay rights”, in The Economist[1], archived from the original on 23 April 2016:
      Then, last month, before the survey was finished and for reasons still unclear, the Democrats abruptly tried to attach a repeal of the law to the defence appropriations bill, a stratagem the Republicans defeated in a filibuster.
  3. (politics, US) A member of a legislative body causing such an obstruction; a filibusterer.


Derived terms[edit]


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filibuster ‎(third-person singular simple present filibusters, present participle filibustering, simple past and past participle filibustered)

  1. To take part in a private military action in a foreign country.
  2. (US, politics) To use obstructionist tactics in a legislative body.
    • 1919, William Roscoe Thayer, chapter 11, in Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography, Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin Company, OCLC 906072059:
      But as the case had dragged on interminably, and he believed, and the world believed, and the Canadians themselves knew, that they intended to filibuster and postpone as long as possible, he took the common-sense way to a settlement.