Have you ever heard the word “Boondoggle?” If you are of a certain age you probably know what this means. My 15-year-old son had no clue. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a Boondoggle is “a wasteful or impractical project or activity often involving graft. The project is a complete boondoggle – over budget, behind schedule and unnecessary.”
A great governmental example would be the so-called “Bridge To Nowhere. This was a government-funded project that would have cost $452 million dollars to connect Ketchikan, Alaska with Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people. This is only one example, a quick search on Google can give you all sorts of boondoggle examples.
But I have another example. Boondoggle is also the name for a woggle. Yes, the very same woggle you wear to keep your wood badge neckerchief in place. In fact, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first example for boondoggle is a braided cord worn by Boy Scouts as a neckerchief slide, hatband or ornament. The word was coined by Scoutmaster Robert H. Link. It was originally the nickname he gave his son in 1925. Four years later the two were delegates to the World Scout Jamboree in England, where the word caught on as the plaited decoration on Scout uniforms.
Now, what about that woggle? A young British Scout, Bill Shankley, who was responsible for running a workshop and developing ideas for camping equipment at Gilwell Park, became aware of the American rings, the boondoggle, and set out to create something similar. The result was the Gilwell Woggle. Shankley said:
They (the British) used to knot their scarves, which used to get creased and stick out at the ends. But in America the early scouts used to plait up various stuffs to make a ring for theirs — they called it a boondoggle. I got some thin sewing machine leather belting, plaited it into a neat ring, submitted it, and had it accepted. I called it a Woggle and that’s the name it’s known by throughout the world.
And there you have it, the story of the boondoggle and the woggle. The dates may be little off and I am sure there is more to the story somewhere. But I know this, if you have ever been to a Wood Badge course and had to tie a woggle, then you know what a boondoggle that was.
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The New York Times, August 15, 1957. Obituary for Robert H. Link.