an·​ar·​chy | \ˈa-nər-kē, -ˌnär- \

Definition of anarchy 

1a : absence of government

b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority the city's descent into anarchy

c : a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government

2a : absence or denial of any authority or established order anarchy prevailed in the ghetto

b : absence of order : disorder not manicured plots but a wild anarchy of nature— Israel Shenker

3 : anarchism

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Synonyms for anarchy


lawlessness, misrule

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The Multiple Meanings of Anarchy

Anarchy exemplifies how words may have similar yet distinctive meanings. The earliest recorded use of the word, from the early 16th century, meant simply “absence of government,” albeit with the implication of civil disorder. A similar but ameliorated meaning began to be employed in the 19th century in reference to a Utopian society that had no government. The establishment of these two senses of anarchy did not stop the word from being applied outside the realm of government with the broadened meaning ”a state of confusion or disorder.” The existence of definitions that are in semantic conflict does not imply that one (or more) of them is wrong; it simply shows that multisense words like anarchy mean different things in different contexts. Another example of a sense-shifting word relating to government is aristocracy. When first used in English, this word carried the sole meaning “government by the best individuals.” It may still be used in such a fashion, but more commonly, it is encountered in the extended sense “the aggregate of those believed to be superior.”

Examples of anarchy in a Sentence

Its immigration policies in the last five years have become the envy of those in the West who see in all but the most restrictive laws the specter of terrorism and social anarchy. — Caroline Moorehead, New York Review of Books, 16 Nov. 2006 Fueled by booze and the euphoria of having seen their school win a share of its first … title in 36 years, a mob of Beavers fans hurled itself at the cops, breaching both chains and creating anarchy. — Austin Murphy, Sports Illustrated, 27 Nov. 2000 But by the early 1800s, the mines began to play out, and the colonists challenged the Spanish throne for independence. The Silver Cities survived not only the bloody revolution of 1821 but also the ensuing century of anarchy and bloodshed. — David Baird, Continental, February 1999 The anarchy of the Internet may be daunting for the neophyte, but it differs little from the bibliographical chaos that is the result of five and a half centuries of the printing press. — Fred Lerner, The Story of Libraries, (1945) 1998 Anarchy reigned in the empire's remote provinces. When the teacher was absent, there was anarchy in the classroom.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Apolitical harmless anarchy of the Sycamore variety may not be the most helpful strategy these days. Kerry Reid,, "'You Can’t Take It With You' is a soothing island in Oak Park," 25 June 2018 Brazil would win the game 2-1, but the result of the replay was overshadowed by the anarchy witnessed in the initial tie., "World Cup Countdown: 18 Weeks to Go - Remembering the Infamous 'Battle of Bordeaux'," 12 Feb. 2018 Running June 13-July 7, 2019, the dark comedy unearths, via a skinned cat, the anarchy that lies beneath the appearance of bourgeois tranquility. Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle, "All new plays in Marin Theatre Company’s 2018-19 season," 2 Mar. 2018 How can this summer’s Deadpool 2 top the merry anarchy of the original? Scott Meslow, GQ, "The New Deadpool 2 Trailer Is All About Cable," 7 Feb. 2018 Get our daily newsletter There are lots of reasons why the party of government has become the party of anarchy. The Economist, "The Conservative Party has trashed the basic principles of conservatism," 12 July 2018 Welcome Baptist Church workers discovered the carving along with an upside down cross and an anarchy symbol burned onto the front columns of the building that houses an addiction recovery group, according to an incident report. Bradford Betz, Fox News, "'Hail Satan' carved into South Carolina Baptist church," 11 July 2018 The English Revolution was a time when spiritual, intellectual, and rhetorical foment began to wildly accelerate towards anarchy. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, "The Death of the Public Square," 6 July 2018 The same can be said for the thousands of men, women and children at the U.S. border today, who are victims of drug cartels, corrupt government and relative anarchy in many of their countries. Jason Johnson, The Root, "It’s Not Slavery, It’s Not Japanese Internment: Trump’s Immigration Policy Is Like the Great Migration," 20 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'anarchy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of anarchy

1539, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for anarchy

Medieval Latin anarchia, from Greek, from anarchos having no ruler, from an- + archos ruler — more at arch-

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Statistics for anarchy

Last Updated

21 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for anarchy

The first known use of anarchy was in 1539

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More Definitions for anarchy



English Language Learners Definition of anarchy

: a situation of confusion and wild behavior in which the people in a country, group, organization, etc., are not controlled by rules or laws

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full of whispering sounds

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