Word of the Day




a situation in which one problem is stopping anything else from being done

Origin and usage

The literal use of the term logjam, referring to a mass of logs blocking a river, first appeared in the late 19th century, when it was usually spelled log-jam or log jam. It is a compound formed of the nouns ‘log’ and ‘jam’, the latter in its meaning of ‘blockage’. The figurative use followed hot on its heels, being first attested a mere five years later. The figurative meaning has overtaken the literal one, being by far the most frequently used today.


Although the literal meaning of logjam is still in use, it is used far less frequently nowadays than the figurative meaning. Only three corpus citations out of a sample of 25 refer to actual logs. Typical collocates of the figurative use show where such situations are most likely to occur. Logjams can be ‘bureaucratic’, ‘diplomatic’ or ‘political’. The latter are frequently ‘partisan’, ‘parliamentary’ or ‘legislative’. A new (to me) use that emerges from the corpus data is a sporting one: teams or players can be in a three-way or four-way logjam when three or four of them are stuck on the same number of points. Logjams are typically broken, or less frequently ended.


Bartlet: Any ideas on how to break the logjam?
Josh: Too bad Congress isn’t here. They’d just cook the books and hold a press conference.
(The West Wing, season 6)

Related words

deadlock, gridlock, quagmire

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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