Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Clout


In the mid-twentieth century, Chicago writers coined the term “clout” to mean political power and influence. This political usage probably was taken from the baseball expression “What a clout!” which described a powerful hit.

Dinner with Mayor Edward J. Kelly, 1938
In Harold Gosnell's Machine Politics (1937), a Chicago precinct captain claimed that no one could “get anywhere” in politics “without clout from behind.” In 1958, Irv Kupcinet wrote that defendants in Chicago trials are “found innocent on the age-old legal premise of reasonable doubt—not ... reasonable clout.” Clout's association with Chicago politics was solidified by Len O'Connor's Clout: Mayor Daley and His City (1975).

By the 1970s, the query “Who's your clout?”—questioning one's ability to reach and persuade those in power—had found wide national usage beyond its Chicago origins.

“Kup's Column.” Chicago Sun-Times, December 14, 1958.
Safire, William. Safire's Political Dictionary. 1978.