Word: demagogue

Pronunciation: DE-mə-ɡahɡ

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


First off, I have to thank Robert Kirkendall for recently reminding me of this word. I usually try to avoid getting political on my blog, but much like the case of the word “gerrymander“, current events have proven too fascinating to leave out of my Word of the Week segment. Anyone following the American presidential race may at one point or another have heard today’s vocabulary word being used in reference to a certain candidate who’s been dominating the polls. Dangerous as this is, of course, I suppose it makes sense; appealing to a majority of voters who want all their desires fulfilled and prejudices validated is a sure way for a “demagogue” to get elected!

A “demagogue” is a politician whose popularity comes from appealing to potential supporters’ prejudices and wishes as opposed to using rational arguments. The word arose in the mid 17th century and comes from the Greek noun dēmagōgós, meaning “popular leader”. This noun comprises two roots: the noun dêmos “people” and the adjective agōgós “leading”.

The word “demagogue” has a long history behind it; in Ancient Greece and Rome, it referred to “a leader or orator who espoused the cause of the common people”. It was originally a neutral word to define a leader of the common people, but has since morphed into a pejorative term for politicians considered to be harmful, manipulative, and/or overly prejudiced. If you write political fiction with characters who will say or do anything to gain supporters, you definitely have at least one “demagogue” lurking in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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