dem·​a·​gogue | \ ˈde-mə-ˌgäg How to pronounce demagogue (audio) \
variants: or less commonly demagog

Definition of demagogue

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power
2 : a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times


variants: or less commonly demagog
demagogued also demagoged; demagoguing also demagoging

Definition of demagogue (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to behave like a demagogue

transitive verb

: to treat (something, such as an issue) in the manner of a demagogue

Other Words from demagogue


demagoguery \ ˈde-​mə-​ˌgä-​g(ə-​)rē How to pronounce demagogue (audio) \ noun
demagogy \ ˈde-​mə-​ˌgä-​gē How to pronounce demagogue (audio) , -​ˌgä-​jē , -​ˌgō-​jē \ noun

Did you know?

When the ancient Greeks used dēmagōgos (from dēmos, meaning "people," and agein, "to lead") they meant someone good—a leader who used outstanding oratorical skills to further the interests of the common people. But alas, the word took a negative turn, suggesting one who uses powers of persuasion to sway and mislead.

Examples of demagogue in a Sentence

Noun Like other good Whigs, they had assumed that the people, once free of English influence, would honor and elevate the country's true patriots and natural aristocracy in ways that the English Crown had not. But when in the decades following the Revolution the people seemed to succumb to the deceit and flattery of mushroom demagogues, who were the popular counterparts of courtiers, the Federalists became bewildered and bitter. — Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters, 2006 Before the U.S. could begin to help Haiti rebuild its ravaged democracy last week, it first had to remove a raving demagogue. — Tim Padgett et al., Time, 15 Mar. 2004 Here's the background: Tennessee's finances are a mess. The state is facing a shortfall of some $310 million—but legislators remember what happened last year when they considered imposing the first income tax on wages. Goaded by talk-radio demagogues, hundreds of citizens surrounded the Statehouse in a near riot. Editor & Publisher, 4 Feb. 2002 His opponent called him a bigoted demagogue. that politician is just a demagogue who preys upon people's fears and prejudices Verb But Clinton's boldness seemed to work, at least within the Beltway. House Republicans mostly stifled the urge to demagogue against his plan. — Tom Morganthau et al., Newsweek, 11 Dec. 1995 See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Where are our musical bards at this critical time in history when the world is under assault by right-wing lunatics, dictators and a U.S. conservative party under the thumb of a very dangerous demagogue? Los Angeles Times, 3 Feb. 2022 Frank’s Truman is a populist in the best sense of the word: not a demagogue but a true man of the people. Beverly Gage, The New Yorker, 7 Mar. 2022 By honoring Krause’s list, NEISD danced to the tune of a demagogue. Gilbert Garcia, San Antonio Express-News, 8 Jan. 2022 McCarthy was a hair-trigger demagogue; Welch was a talented writer and ambitious thinker who could make the most unhinged sort of claim appear both copiously researched and politically urgent. Chris Lehmann, The New Republic, 23 Nov. 2021 What's a demagogue's reaction to a rabid crowd at a rally? Washington Post, 16 Dec. 2021 The former Louisiana governor and US congressman, 93, who died Monday of respiratory problems, was a brazen practitioner of the corrupt-politics-as-theatrics style mastered by the legendary Depression-era demagogue Huey Long., 13 July 2021 The former Louisiana governor and U.S. congressman, 93, who died July 12 of respiratory problems, was a brazen practitioner of the corrupt-politics-as-theatrics style mastered by the legendary Depression-era demagogue Huey Long. Washington Post, 12 July 2021 Actually, it was dreamed up by President Dwight Eisenhower, who wasn’t even a lawyer, during the Army-McCarthy hearings to bar testimony about a White House meeting on how to silence a certain red-baiting demagogue from Wisconsin. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 18 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The party seems determined to try to racially demagogue its way back to national power, even as an overwhelming majority of the country applauds the all-too-rare conviction of a white police officer who murdered a Black man. Ankush Khardori, The New Republic, 21 Apr. 2021 With an election coming, advantage goes to those who stayed on the sidelines of the fight and now can demagogue on impossible solutions that would impose no pain and deliver free goodies. Author: Charles Wohlforth | Opinion, Anchorage Daily News, 2 Mar. 2018 See More

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

First Known Use of demagogue


1648, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1656, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for demagogue


borrowed from Greek dēmagōgós, from dêmos "people" + -agōgos "leading, impelling" — more at demo-, -agogue


verbal derivative of demagogue entry 1

Learn More About demagogue

Time Traveler for demagogue

Time Traveler

The first known use of demagogue was in 1648

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About demagogue

Dictionary Entries Near demagogue




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for demagogue

Last Updated

20 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Demagogue.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on demagogue

Nglish: Translation of demagogue for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of demagogue for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Which Word Does Not Belong?

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!