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Pronunciation RealAudio

demagogue (DEM-uh-gog) noun, also demagog

A person who appeals to the prejudices and emotions of the people to gain power.

verb tr. and intr.

To manipulate an issue, to speak, or to act in the manner of a demagogue.

[From Greek demagogos (leader of the people), from demos (people) + agogos (leader). In ancient Greece, a demagogos was a popular leader and the word didn't have any negative connotations. With the passage of time, the word shifted meaning and today no leader would like to be called a demagogue, no matter how often he uses words such as "patriotism", "honor", "courage", and "sacrifice" in trying to sway people.]

"One such worry is that the demagogues may mislead the voters most of whom are ill-informed and ill-educated." A. M. Alimuzzaman, In Quest of Free And Fair Election: The Obstacles, The Independent (Bangladesh), Aug 31, 2001.

"But the production's real virtue is in not underestimating this flamboyant, egomaniacal figure, for making it clear that like most effective demagogues (as opposed to plain old cranks) he exploited some very real gripes to serve his overweening ambitions." Calev Ben-David, The Making of a Demagogue, Jerusalem Post, Jan 8, 1999.

A short while back my daughter turned five. On the morning of her birth anniversary, we were playing in the sandbox. She had been counting down to this day for a long time and it had finally arrived. It was obvious she was excited as she threw sand-balls at me. I wondered aloud, "How about if we had a birthday every month instead?" She countered, "How about a birthday every day!" Then in a moment of grown-up reflection, she said, "Oh, I'm just being silly." Of course, she wasn't being silly. Children have more flashes of insight in an hour than most adults will have in decades.

Aren't we born, and die, every day, every minute, every moment? Millions of cells in our bodies languish and new ones are born every day. With new experiences, feelings, thoughts, new neurons are formed, while many old ones go away. We change our opinions, our values, and our judgments each instant, though in an imperceptibly gradual manner. Like the proverbial river one can't step in twice, we can't be in the same body again, nor do we have the same mind. Every moment we die, and every moment our rebirth takes place. (Ah, and I was fretting about something that happened months ago.)

Well, the same goes for words. New words are formed, old ones wither. And existing words change. A few hundred years ago if you told someone "silly" you'd be calling them blessed, a "gale" was a gentle breeze, and saying "nice" to a person was not a compliment, it meant foolish or stupid.

This week we'll look at a few other words that have changed their meaning with time. -Anu


My faith is that the only soul a man must save is his own. -William Orville Douglas, US Supreme Court Justice (1898-1980)

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