The following is a posthumous tribute to a fellow writer and friend. It is an entertaining, lighthearted letter about language written in 2007 but, with a few name and administration changes, could easily be relevant today. Gary sent this to me a few weeks before his passing because a blog post I had written in October 2016 called “Trumpery” reminded him of it.–Charles
November 18, 2007
Sunday nights used to depress me, but tonight I am deluxed, exfoliated and deboned with excitement because I’ve found a single word that explains the current litany of troubles we are facing as a society. The word is: kakistocracy.
I know it’s an obscure word, since I found it in my copy of “Totally Weird and Wonderful Words.” This is not a fly-by-night publication. Its editor is none other than Erin McKean, who is editor-in-chief of the Oxford American Dictionary Program, and also editor of “Verbatim: The Language Quarterly.”
In this volume one can find such treasures as:
ergophobic (someone who fears work)
brabbling (arguing noisily about insignificant things)
acrasia (lack of self-control; acting against your better judgment)
sardoodledom (describes something well-written but trivial)
choller (a double chin, or the hanging lip of a hound dog)
You may already have realized that I’ve chosen words that could easily describe myself. It’s only fair when criticizing others that one accounts for one’s own weaknesses.
To get right to it, kakistrocracy is defined as: the government of a state by its worst citizens. As an adjective, it would be kakistocratical. Someone wrote for the Oxford English Dictionary in 1876, “Is ours a government of the people, by the people, for the people, or a Kakistrocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”
May I suggest that we should be asking the same questions about our government now, 131 years later.
It doesn’t take much digging to make the case. We see examples in the news almost daily, and now from both sides of the political spectrum. (Spectrumometer = A toilet-shaped medical device into which society coughs up hairballs, only to discover they have dark suits attached and answer to names like Senator, Congressman, and Mr. President.)
Yes, it’s coming from the right (The Heritage Foundation claims that the federal government can’t account for nearly $25 billion it spent in 2003). And from the left. (I beg you to read “War At Any Price” which was published this month by Sen. Schumer and his Joint Economic Committee Majority Staff, and can be found on line.)
You can add your own peeves to the list of outrages. Oil company subsidies, our secret government, the uninsured, our broken health system, the destruction of the middle class, the tattering of our Constitution, the war(s), global warming, treatment (or non-treatment) of veterans, greedy banks, cell phones, reality shows, the corporate takeover of news, and even Barry Bonds if you really have run out of things to talk about. Add up your list, and see if it doesn’t seem like the worst of us are in charge.
We used to say, “It’s 8 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” Our children’s children, dealing with our mess for decades to come, are going to be saying, “Where in the hell were our grandparents when all this was going on?” (I don’t think this concept is new with me, but it fits so well, and after all I’m speaking on behalf of the World.)
To answer the grandparent question, I borrow another word from Mr. McKean’s book. Pandiculation – the stretching of the body that often accompanies yawning. I’m afraid I’m as guilty of that as anyone, although lately I’ve begun to send more emails to Congress, and even the White House. But you wonder if they’re really listening! Instead of a real reply, you start receiving newsletters telling you what a great job senator so-and-so is doing. Lately I sent email messages to Democrat leaders saying if they didn’t start impeachment proceedings against Bush & Cheney I was going to re-register as an Independent. I’ve written the same message on their fundraising letters and sent them back. I just get more fundraising letters.
Seems like it may be time to grab our brooms and sweep these bastards out.
Kakistocracy (kack-i-stah-kruh-see). Say it a few times out loud. After a while, it just rolls off the tongue.
Sending love (and don’t we need it?),
PS – By the way, a dishonest, calculating politician is a snollygoster.