• kleptocracy •
klep-tah-krê-si • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A government characterized by rampant greed, thievery, and corruption.
Notes: We are more familiar with the word kleptomania than we are with today's Good Word. A rotten politician who steals or takes bribes is a kleptocrat, but the noun from this word (kleptocracy) may refer to the complete panoply of political corruption: bribery, thievery, and any other form of corruption. Kleptocrats behave kleptocratically, the adverb from the adjective kleptocratic.
In Play: It is easy to find hyperbolic uses for today's word: "Congress is such a kleptocracy these days, the decision to go into politics has become an economic one." The government's control of large sums of money attracts thieves: "A cynical ring of kleptocrats controlled the political process long enough to rack up the world's largest per capita debt."
Word History: This word was created in the early 19th century from Greek kleptes "thief" + kratia "power, rule" = "rule by thieves". The Proto-Indo-European root klep- "to steal" was an extension of the root kel- "to cover, conceal", whence English cell. It is a cognate with Latin clepere "to steal, listen secretly to" and the Serbian words implying concealment, poklopac "cover, lid" and klopka "trap". Greek kratia comes from the same source as English hard. In fact, in Ionic Greek, a subdialect of literary Attic Greek, the word was spelled kartia. Apparently the word underwent metathesis in Attic Greek, whereby the vowel and the R traded places. The result was kratos "strong, powerful" in Greek, the word kratia was based on. (Today's Good Word is due Paul Ogden, one of the Good Word's pro bono editors to whom we owe especial gratitude.)