LANGUAGE OLIO 6: Words 2 – mobocracy ineptocracy

“Letters”Iowa City Press Citizen Tuesday 27 December 2011 p. 7A

In the ‘Letters’ column for the indicated day one letter is headlined “It’s mobocracy, not democracy”, the other, “Obama rules an ineptocracy”.  It is not the content of these complaints that interests me, but the language:  the three instances of –cracy merit further scrutiny.

We certainly know what it means, since the term is imbedded in a number of modern words:  aristocracy, democracy, gerontocracy, meritocracy, thalassocracy, theocracy, etc. etc.  The final element –cracy is an anglicizing of ancient Greek -κρατία –kratia ‘might, power, strength’, and some of these compounds listed exist in ancient Greek and were simply pilfered and anglicized – like aristocracy, thalassocracy, democracy.  Others are modern formations resting on perfectly reasonable linguistic analogy, such as meritocracy, theocracy

The OED lists well over one hundred such –cracy formations in our modern lexicon, most of them neologisms, many of them hybrids (e.g., composed of one non-Greek element + Greek –cracy – like meritocracy, for example, whose first component is Latin).

The headlined ‘mobocracy’ above is such a hybrid: one non-Greek element (English ‘mob’) + Greek –cracy, and we have no trouble discerning its meaning (‘people power’), even if we have never seen it before (the OED in fact documents it from as early as 1754). In the case of the hybrid ‘ineptocracy’ the situation is different, for the OED does not list it, nor do I find it in Webster’s.  No matter – we still know, instinctively, what it means by analogy (a very potent force in language change and growth) with so many other examples of X-o-cracy (that -o- is a common ‘link vowel’ for Greek words just as -i- is for Latin ones) that have found a warm bed in our lexical houses.

Now, the interesting thing is that there does exist a very good non-hybrid word to exress what ‘mobocracy’ does:  ‘ochlocracy’, from Greek ὄχλος ochlos ‘crowd, mob’ + Greek –cracy.  It’s not that I object to ‘mobocracy’, for, as I’ve indicated, it’s a perfectly reasonable formation.  But, purist if possible, I prefer ‘ochlocracy’!

A different kettle of fish is ‘ineptocracy’.  I mean, I like it – it’s clever and in my view quite legitimate.  Could I come up with a neologism that is not a hybrid but a pass for a purist? Here are a few: ‘mochtherocracy’ (< μοχθηρός ‘rascally, knavish, in a dreadful state’); ‘adynatocracy’ (< ἀδύνατος ‘incapable, weak’); ‘phlaurourocracy’ (< φλαυρουργός ‘sorry excuse for work’) or maybe just ‘phlaurocracy’ (< φλαυρός ‘indifferent, shabby, bad’).  Needless to say, none of these ‘pure’ neologisms has the compelling immediacy of ‘ineptocracy’ for Greek-less readers, but (and, as I said, I am not at all unhappy with ‘ineptocracy’) I kind of like ‘phlaurocracy’ (sounds sort of flabby and flawed) and ‘adynatocracy’ (gets at the sense of incompetence and incapacity to do).

Balls in your court!

Monday 2 January 2012



Language OLIO
1: Introduction       2: than      3: our are     4: opus maximus     5: words 1 – prosopagnosia  phonagnosia

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2 Responses to LANGUAGE OLIO 6: Words 2 – mobocracy ineptocracy

  1. which neologisms do you not like? are some just plain bad?

  2. Pingback: LANGUAGE OLIO 7: words 3 — lalochezia laliophilia | laohutiger

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