An article in last week's New York Times about supposed wastes of government stimulus money explained the origin of the word boondoggle:
Before it became a bad word, “boondoggle” was an innocent, humble craft. It was the Boy Scouts of America who claimed credit for coining the word, to refer to the plaited leather lanyards that they made and wore around their necks.
That all changed on April 3, 1935, at a hearing in New York City on how New Deal relief money was being spent. A Brooklyn crafts teacher reluctantly testified that he was paid to show the jobless how to make “boon doggles.” The outcry was swift. “$3,187,000 Relief is Spent to Teach Jobless to Play,” trumpeted a front-page headline the next day in The New York Times. “ ‘Boon Doggles’ Made.”
A new, more sinister meaning was born, and the word came to signify government make-work, later referring to wasteful government projects in general. Critics used it to criticize scores of projects, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt took a longer view. “If we can boondoggle ourselves out of this Depression,” Roosevelt said, “that word is going to be enshrined in the hearts of the American people for years to come.”
In this, the New York Times trumps the OED, which gives this etymology:
I didn't know such an admission existed in the OED. Brush up on your Americanisms, mates!