Of course you have heard of ARISTOCRACY, referring to a high ranking class in some societies who believe they are born to rule. They tend to enjoy certain ranks and privileges such as inherited titles or positions of power. These days even those societies which do not have an entrenched social class system have one imposed on them by economic advantage (or disadvantage).

This leads to me thinking about PLUTOCRACY, which refers to a government by the wealthy or an elite class who derive their power from wealth. In both cases wealth plays a part in terms of wielding power over those who have neither.

Now, Americans and South Africans – you could presumably name several other countries too – currently bear a very public cross in the form of their respective governments. In both countries the government leaders were legitimately voted in, leaving others feeling aghast and scratching their heads in a ‘what were they thinking’ kind of way.

As with all elections, once the celebrations of victory – or the commiseration of defeat – have subsided and the reality of the full-term of the elected government hits home, citizens of all persuasions have to live with the consequences. Media reports indicate that the Americans are saddled with a government by persons least qualified to do the job – I cannot speak for them – and in South Africa we have long been the butt of jokes that make us wonder if we have not drawn a government by the worst persons.

In both these countries the concept of democracy has turned us into a KAKISTOCRACY.

Now, now, South Africans … while this word bears a strong resemblance to the one commonly used to dismiss something out of hand or to describe a situation or feeling that is simply too awful for words [the root for that one is the Indo-European kakka-/kaka, meaning to defecate], the origin of this word is more refined and was coined by the English author, Thomas Love Peacock in his 1829 novella The Misfortunes of Elphin. You mean, you haven’t read it? It begins with the words, In the beginning of the sixth century, when Uther Pendragon held the nominal sovereignty of Britain over a number of petty kings, Gwythno Garanhir was king of Caredigion, and is a comic romance filled with wit and humour.

Kakistocracy comes from the Greek kakistos (meaning ‘worst’) plus the suffix -cracy (meaning ‘rule’ as in aristocracy and plutocracy mentioned above).

Now you have a word for it, you can describe your feelings about the government with a clear conscience in polite society.

I am grateful to Worsmith.org for introducing me to this word.


7 thoughts on “KAKISTOCRACY

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