Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Rule by Ridiculous People

Paul Krugman, "Rule by the Ridiculous," New York Times (December 28, 2010):
There must be a way to construct a word for this out of Greek roots; something like kleptocracy, but meaning rule by ridiculous people instead. But it's all Greek to me.
Many commenters on Krugman's blog post made suggestions, e.g. geloiocracy and idiocracy.

I'd prefer a real ancient Greek word. I don't have access to Carl D. Buck and Walter Petersen, A Reverse Lexicon of Greek Nouns and Adjectives Arranged by Terminations (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1948), but I made a quick search with, looking for words ending with -άρχης (153 hits), -αρχία (87 hits), -κρατής, -κράτης (30 hits), and -κρατία (18 hits). I thought if I could find an appropriate nomen agentis, it would be licit to form an abstract noun from it. But I had no luck with any of the terminations listed.

As for "ridiculous people," the standard ancient Greek word for clown is γελωτοποιός (gelōtopoiós, literally laughter-maker), e.g. Xenophon, Symposium 1.11, etc. See S.C. Woodhouse, English-Greek Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Attic Language (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1910), s.vv. buffoon, clown, and jester. Woodhouse s.v. buffoon also gives βωμόλοχος (bōmólochos) as a possibility.

But the gelōtopoiós and the bōmólochos are intentionally ridiculous. I suspect that Krugman meant unintentionally ridiculous people, those who are ridiculous because of their stupidity, i.e. fools. Sydney Smith coined foolocracy, if you'd allow a hybrid. G.K. Chesterton once used the word morocracy, from μωρός (mōrós = fool), not a bad approximation for "rule by ridiculous people." Cf. English moron, oxymoron, sophomore.

Hat tip: Jim K.

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