What's your best guess as to why a campaign 'stump speech' is called a 'stump speech'?

Hint: It has more to do with trees than politics

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A regular feature that decodes political phrases. This week we look at the term "stump speech".

Congress is officially out of D.C. for its August recess and campaigning for November's midterm elections is heating up—so that means you’re about to hear a lot of these: stump speeches.

Where we’re hearing it:

You’ve likely been hearing or seeing coverage of stump speeches throughout 2014. They might as well be part of a politician’s job description. A stump speech generally describes any comments a candidate makes when running for office.

The official U.S. legal definition is:

The standard speech of a candidate for office. It is the one he or she is most likely to use, perhaps with slight variations, on normal occasions.

Think of the politicians who always seem to be preaching the same thing. For example, former Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul and his ideas on non-governmental interference or former Majority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., who pushed for immigration reform.

Stump speeches pretty much push the same points over and over. You can interchange stump speech with spiel.

Where did the word come from?

But why “stump” speech?

Well the answer is pretty simple—back in the olden days, sometime between the late 1700s and early 1800s, politicians used to give those repetitive speeches on actual tree stumps. Call it an environmentally friendly alternative to podiums.

According to About.com, stump speeches first became popular along the American frontier in the early 1800s. The first definition for the term appeared in an 1840 reference book, but it wasn’t just the word that took off. It’s also during this time that stump speeches or “stumping” came to be regarded as a type of art form.

An entry at About.com reads:

The ability to give an effective stump speech was considered an essential political skill. And notable 19th century politicians, including Henry ClayAbraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, were respected for their skills as stump speakers.

Candidates were moving from town to town addressing different audiences they hoped to win over. Although the beginning of the speeches were often tweaked to included references to the specific town and its local officials, often times the heart of the speech was the same at every stop.

Where will we see it?

Today, a stump speech is a bit different. Politicians don’t rely on train travel, or whistle-stopping (Watch DecodeDC during the next few weeks for a close look at the term "whistle-stopping") to get their messages out to constituents. Instead they use television ads or a little thing called the Internet.

The ease with which the public can view a candidate on TV has made it harder for politicians to reuse the same speech. That means the spiels we hear today aren't quite as repetitive as stump speeches used to be.

With stump speeches today, there is at least one thing to keep in mind, as wisegeek.com describes:

“It’s also important to consider that no stump speech is likely to give hugely detailed information about a candidate’s plans.”

Because, after all, they are politicians.

Nathalie Boyd contributed to this story.

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