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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web There’s an electricity to his voluminous output, equal parts chaos, anarchy, and sheer energy. Nicholas Quah, Vulture, "Jason Concepcion’s Takes on the World," 18 Mar. 2021 The character was birthed in violence, like most Marvel superheroes and supervillains, convinced that the world needed anarchy after the death of his father at a Latverian embassy. Brian Tallerico, Vulture, "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," 19 Mar. 2021 Vigilantes have shamefully used the name of George Floyd to cordon off the area from police and allow the neighborhood to sink into a state of dangerous anarchy. Star Tribune, "Readers Write: George Floyd settlement, violence at 38th and Chicago, Derek Chauvin's trial," 15 Mar. 2021 Despotism and anarchy—not as alternatives, but rather working in tandem—are pretty much where that project has ended up: the combination of Trump’s authoritarian instincts with mob rule. Fintan O’toole, The New York Review of Books, "To Hell with Unity," 2 Mar. 2021 Will voters try to mitigate those controversies by picking a diverse set of worthy winners, or will traditional Globe anarchy prevail? New York Times, "2021 Golden Globes Predictions: Will ‘Borat’ Be the Big Winner?," 26 Feb. 2021 That may sound like a recipe for musical anarchy, but thanks in large part to Mr. Ostin’s colleague, A&R chief Lenny Waronker, Warner Bros. David Kirby, WSJ, "‘Sonic Boom’ Review: Golden Years," 21 Jan. 2021 Underlying the policy arguments was the belief that the armed citizen—the proverbial Good Guy With a Gun—was a bulwark against anarchy and disorder. Rachel Monroe, Wired, "I Am Not a Soldier, but I Have Been Trained to Kill," 15 Jan. 2021 Rafael Ramirez, a former oil minister who worked with Chavez and Maduro from 2003 to 2014, warns that unregulated change now could open the door to economic anarchy where the most powerful set the rules. Stefano Pozzebon, CNN, "Venezuela is quietly quitting socialism," 18 Dec. 2020

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

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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Time Traveler for anarchy

Time Traveler

The first known use of anarchy was in 1539

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Statistics for anarchy

Last Updated

6 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Anarchy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

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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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