• tycoon •
Pronunciation: tai-kun • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Magnate, mogul, plutocrat; a person of great wealth and power, especially a superwealthy, aggressive businessman.
Notes: Today this word is most often applied to businessmen who have amassed fortunes though, as we will see in the Word History, this was not always so. Today the word has a slightly pejorative tinge and is usually reserved for aggressive, highly visible wealthy men. We call Donald Trump and Mitt Romney tycoons, but I think most of us would hesitate using that title for Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.
In Play: The basic meaning of today's word is a very powerful person, who gets his power from his wealth: "Everyone wonders how oil tycoon Robin Banks came by the original venture capital to start up his first company." Robin keeps referring to himself as a "self-made man". He got his start in grammar school when he became a "newspaper tycoon" by buying up all the newspaper delivery routes in town and hiring his friends to operate them.
Word History: Today's word is a title by which the shogun of Japan was described to foreigners to suggest that he was more important than the emperor. It is a Chinese word comprising tai "great, grand" + kun "lord, prince". It was brought back to the US in the wake of Matthew Perry's trade negotiations with the Japanese, which were carried out through the office of the shogun. Perry always addressed the shogun as taikun. When it arrived in the US it was originally applied affectionately to Abraham Lincoln by his cabinet and not so affectionately by his enemies. After World War I its use was limited to business leaders, like J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller. (Today's Good Word was suggested by Faye Beard, a tycoon by no means, but woman with a substantial vocabulary.)