Printable Version
Pronunciation: mer-ri-tah-krê-si Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Governance by people chosen on the basis of merit, for their competence rather than birth, wealth or other criteria.

Notes: This word, parallel to democracy, comes with the same full panoply of derivational forms as that word. A meritocracy is meritocratic governance conducted meritocratically by meritocrats. (Forgive the redundancy: it's the only way I can get the noun, adjective, and adverb forms all in one sentence.) All organizations aspire to be meritocratic. The only problem is that we have differing opinions of what is meritorious.

In Play: The dream of everyone is a meritocratic government: "If Congress were based on meritocracy, there would be only a handful of members." A merciful meritocracy in the workplace is crucial for a successful business. This isn't always the case, though: "Gladys Friday certainly wasn't promoted to vice president meritocratically."

Word History: Today's Good Word is English merit + -ocracy, a combining form indicating a particular form of governance. English merit is Old French merite with only the silent E trimmed off. Old French inherited this word from Latin meritum "reward, merit," based on the past participle of meriri "to earn, deserve". Other related words based on the same root include emeritus, the title bestowed upon retired professors (ex "out of" + meritus "reward") and meretricious "gaudy, flashy, like a woman who gets what she deserves, that is, a prostitute". Finally, there is turmeric (don't forget the first R). Turmeric came to Middle English as termeryte from Old French terre-merite "earth's reward". (William Hupy certainly merits our gratitude for suggesting today's very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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