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Language Evolves Apace

I learned a new word today: kakistocracy. My copy of the OED defines it as “the government of a State by the worst citizens.” It’s apparently derived from the Greek kakistos (“worst”) + –cracy, after aristocracy.

Isn’t that quaint? That there was once a time when we could all agree on who the worst among us actually were?

According to the dictionary, the word was first recorded in the early 19th century. These days, however, it seems to be defined in terms of whether the politician you voted for is in office. My team won: “Democracy works.” My team lost: “My God we’re living in a kakistocracy!”

Maybe that’s why we don’t hear it much anymore—because, like ironic and literally, it’s lost its original meaning.



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