• papyrocracy •
pay-pê-rah-krê-si • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Government by red tape, by excessive paperwork
Notes: The Oxford English Dictionary lists today's Good Word as a "nonce" word, which is to say, a word invented for use one time in a specific context. It is a rare lexical bird but a well-formed one, so there is no reason why we shouldn't use it. A few spots on the web claim that the word means "rule by the newspapers and journals)" but that sense does not follow from the makeup of the word. Those in charge of such a government? I suppose they would be papyrocrats, though this word would seem to have never been used at all before.
In Play: If the 21st century becomes the paperless century, today's Good Word may miss its opportunity for popularity. But even if paperwork disappears, sufficient e-forms (virtual red tape) will remain to validate statements like this: "I think I would rather stay at home than work my way through the papyrocracy to get a passport." Maybe we should call the new bureaucracy an e-papyrocracy.
Word History: Today's Good Word was created from the Greek words papyro-s "papyrus, paper" + krat-ia "power, strength" by analogy with words like democracy, aristocracy, and theocracy. Papyrus is probably of Egyptian origin but no related words in Egyptian have been identified. Kratia, however, is based on kratos, which derives from the same root as English hard and German hart. These words are also related to Greek karkinos "(hard-shelled) crab", which also referred to the zodiac sign Cancer. In fact karkinos was a synonym of that crabby kind of flesh called karkinoma "ulcer, cancer", the source of English carcinoma.
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