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Home » Shipping » The term”Slush Fund” originated in the 18th-century maritime world

The term”Slush Fund” originated in the 18th-century maritime world

PortandTerminal.com, November 7, 2020

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – These days the term “slush fund” generally means money that is hidden by people in official positions for nefarious purposes.

Slush Fund

“A reserve of money used for illicit purposes, especially political bribery” – Oxford Dictionary

In fact, the term slush fund was originally a nautical expression.

Slush has had the meaning of “refuse grease and fat from cooking especially on shipboard” since the middle of the 18th century. These days we may not think of old bacon grease as a particularly useful commodity, but the manufacture of many things, such as candles, was dependent on such material.

Recreation of an 18th century ship galley. Note the pots of boiling salted meat on the oven.
Recreation of an 18th century ship galley. Note the pots of boiling salted meat on the oven.

In the 18th century maritime world, the slush was the fat or grease skimmed from the top of the cauldron when boiling salted meat. Importantly, that grease was valuable. Ship officers would sell the fat to candle makers when the ship came into port.

The money from the sale of slush was reserved for the crew of the ship and would be used to purchase items, such as musical instruments or books, which were not considered necessary enough that a country’s navy, or a ship’s owner, had to provide them for a crew.

According to Merriam Webster, by the middle of the 19th century the term had moved from the specialized lexicon of sailors, and was being used in generalized language.

In its initial non-nautical use slush fund appears to have had no connection with illicit funds or bribery.  By the late 1860s, the term “slush fund” begain to be used to mean “a fund for bribing public officials or carrying on corruptive propaganda.”

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