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

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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. Mid-17th-century writers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Dryden-and, later, Jonathan Swift-employed the English word that way. But, at the same time, the word took a negative turn, coming to suggest one who uses powers of persuasion to sway and mislead. "A plausible, insignificant word, in the mouth of an expert demagogue, is a dangerous and a dreadful weapon," declared Robert South, known for his sermons, in 1716.

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
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Leaders like Bush, and his father before him, saw the Trump base all along -- the racists keen to latch onto a demagogue, the folks who voted to act out white male resentment rather than promoting their own (or anyone's) best interests. Jill Filipovic, CNN, "George Bush leaves out an ugly truth on immigration," 21 Apr. 2021 The eugenics movement is embraced by an elite group of Americans as well as by a certain anti-Semitic demagogue in Germany; the 19th Amendment has been ratified, yet women are still controlled financially by men. Christine Brunkhorst Special To The Star Tribune, Star Tribune, "Review: 'Waterfall,' by Mary Casanova," 16 Apr. 2021 But the other day, Biden opened his soul on ESPN and a demagogue came out. John Kass, Star Tribune, "Biden throws out a pitch for America's new pastime: race baiting," 8 Apr. 2021 The responsible party leader appeared as a cruel tyrant, the inspiring rhetorician as a vicious demagogue. Corey Robin, The New Yorker, "Trump and the Trapped Country," 13 Mar. 2021 Huey Long was maybe the outstanding populist and demagogue of the 20th century in America. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, "Voices from Philistia," 4 Mar. 2021 But many in the GOP have lost the presumption of sincerity after fanning the conspiracy theories of a demagogue. Stephen Collinson With Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, "Battles that will define US elections in 2022, 2024 and beyond are already here," 3 Mar. 2021 The world-class demagogue from Tabasco, who thrives on nationalism, now has the bit in his mouth. Mary Anastasia O’grady, WSJ, "AMLO’s Plan to Drop Texas Gas," 21 Feb. 2021 The notion of a pandemic for many involved in the film about a fringe blogger-turned-demagogue seemed like a distant possibility back then. Chronicle Staff, San Francisco Chronicle, "Coronavirus updates from the Bay Area and beyond: Feb. 4-10, 2021," 18 Feb. 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, "The Republicans’ Unhinged, Baseless Attacks on Biden’s DOJ Nominees," 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, "A $5,000 dividend would put the ‘Alaska experiment’ in deep danger," 2 Mar. 2018

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for demagogue

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The first known use of demagogue was in 1648

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Last Updated

2 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Demagogue.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for demagogue



English Language Learners Definition of demagogue

disapproving : a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason

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