• demagogue •
Pronunciation: dem-ê-gahg • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An unprincipled orator who appeals to the passions and prejudices of the mob; a political agitator.
Notes: The long political season in the US presents many, many opportunities for demagogue spotters. Demagogues are the ones practicing demagoguery, the abstract noun accompanying this personal noun. The noun may be used as a verb, as to demagogue unabashedly. We have our choice of two adjectives, demagogic or demagogical, but we have to use the latter for the adverb: demagogically. Careful not to substitute an O for the A in the middle.
In Play: As I mentioned before, now is the best time to observe demagogues: "No time like the election season to bring the demagogues out of the woodwork en masse." We sometimes meet demagogues who are not running for office, too: "Dutch Masters is such a pompous demagogue; he just can't come down off that soapbox of his."
Word History: Today's Good Word we took directly from Greek demagogos "popular leader, mob leader", from demos "people" + agogos "leader", from agein "to lead". This word was used disparagingly from its first written appearance in Athens in the fifth century BCE. We see demos also in democracy "people power" and pandemic "(disease affecting) all people", from pan "all" + demos "people". We find the root of agogos in Latin agere "to act, to do", from which we get agent and agile. The past participle of agere was actus, which went on to motivate many other words we borrowed: act, active, actor, transact, and all the verbs ending on -ate. (Jay Gilliam suggested today's Good Word most undemagogically.)