Printable Version
Pronunciation: ah-li-gahrk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A member of a small governing faction (oligarchy). 2. An exceptionally wealthy businessman who wields a great deal of political influence.

Notes: The second sense of today's Good Word has been creeping into the US news lately. A group of oligarchs forms an oligarchy, whose often nefarious activities are oligarchic(al). The tendency to have or belong to an oligarchy is known as oligarchism, and to form an oligarchy in an organization is to oligarchize it.

In Play: Russia is the country most often associated with oligarchy in the second sense of the word. Its most famous oligarch is Mikhail Khordorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia worth more than $15 billion. He was arrested and spent 10 years in prison while his empire evaporated. Charles and David Koch have recently been referred to as American oligarchs for their noticeably large financial contributions to the US electoral process.

Word History: Today's word is an English adaptation of the Greek compound noun oligarkhes, made up of the roots of oligoi "few" + arkhein "to rule". We have no idea where oligoi comes from. It appears out of nowhere in ancient Greek. No trace of it can be found in other Indo-European languages. Archein provides only slightly more to go on. While we don't know where it comes from, we do have various related derivations in Greek, leaving us to believe that it is an Indo-European word. Archon meant "ruler" and arche, "rule, beginning". We also find it combined with other words in such compounds such as archipelago, literally "chief (ruling) sea", and archangel, again, "chief (ruling) angel". In monarchy "one person rule", anarchy "no rule", and matriarchy "female rule", it is found in the second position of the compound. (Brian Johnson recommended we consider today's quite topical Good Word in the most democratic Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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