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ochlocracy

Printable Version Pronunciation: aw-klah-krê-see Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Mob rule, government by the rabble.

Notes: The compounding form -cracy today is added to Greek stems with the same abandon that they are combined with phobia and -ology. We meet words like gerontocracy, gynecocracy, plutocracy. Like all these, today's Good Word touts an adjective, ochlocratic(al), and an adverb, ochlocratically.

In Play: Though we currently use today's term mostly metaphorically, there have been times in our history when real ochlocracy prevailed: "Maximilien Robespierre turned the ochlocracy that arose after the French Revolution of 1788 into a reign of terror." Today, however, this word and its family arise mostly in hyperboles: "It is a struggle to restrain the ochlocratic inclinations of soccer fans when a championship is at stake."

Word History: Today's word is an English makeover of Greek okhlokratia with the same meaning. The Greek compound was created from okhlos "mob" + kratos "rule, power, strength" + the noun suffix -ia, commonly translated as -y in English. Okhlos had a mysterious past and, apparently, future, since we find no evidence of it in other Indo-European languages. Kratos, on the other hand, shows up in many other languages. The original root, krat- "strong, powerful" underwent metathesis in the Germanic languages, turning up as hart in German and hard in English, both with the same meaning. (Lest we be taken for an ochlocracy, let's now thank Kathleen McCune of Norway for suggesting today's rather topical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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