an·​ar·​chy | \ ˈa-nər-kē How to pronounce anarchy (audio) , -ˌnär- How to pronounce anarchy (audio) \

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

Synonyms for anarchy


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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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Police are sending a message of anarchy and, unfortunately, are telling youth not to take the judgement seriously. Atika Shubert, Abeer Salman And Lauren Izso, CNN, 23 May 2022 With its rapidly-shifting visual style and other Boyle-ish flourishes, Pistol clearly aspires to bring some of the same anarchy to the calcified state of the modern prestige TV drama. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 31 May 2022 It isn’t destined that liberal nations win or even survive the inherent anarchy of the current order. WSJ, 6 May 2022 Despite closing with two straight losses, No. 22 Texas (21-10, 10-8 Big 12) still surfaced from the Big 12 anarchy with a No. 4 seed for this week’s conference tournament at the T-Mobile Center. Nick Moyle, San Antonio Express-News, 9 Mar. 2022 This time around, Rachel Wolfson, Eric André, and Machine Gun Kelly, among others, join in on the anarchy. Jessica Wang,, 6 Feb. 2022 Allusions to what’s happening around the world at this time suggest that the Frankist cult was an example of the religious anarchy unleashed by the Enlightenment. Washington Post, 1 Feb. 2022 Over the last eight years, writer-director James DeMonaco has built a name for himself with the lawless anarchy of The Purge franchise (on screens both big and small). Josh Weiss, Forbes, 20 Sep. 2021 Instead of becoming stewards of law and order, dictators become agents of anarchy who proliferate war, genocide, poverty and pandemics. Daniel Twining, WSJ, 6 May 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of anarchy

1539, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for anarchy

borrowed from Medieval Latin anarchia, borrowed from Greek anarchía "lack of a leader, lawlessness," from ánarchos "without a head or chief, leaderless" (from an- an- + -archos, derivative of archós "leader, chief") + -ia -y entry 2, -arch entry 1

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The first known use of anarchy was in 1539

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Last Updated

17 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Anarchy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jul. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on anarchy

Nglish: Translation of anarchy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of anarchy for Arabic Speakers


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