'Democracy Dies in Darkness'

Lookups for 'democracy' spiked after The Washington Post unveiled its new slogan

Lookups for democracy spiked on February 22, 2017, after The Washington Post began using a new slogan on its website: “Democracy dies in darkness.” Many commentaries connected the move with President Trump’s hostility to the press in general, and the Post in particular.

Democracy means “a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting.” It came to English from French in the early 1500s, but traces back through Latin to Greek; it was formed from the Greek words dēmos, meaning “people” and kratia, meaning “strength” or “power.” Democracy is among the most looked-up words in our dictionary, and is currently #12 in all-time lookups. The word does not appear in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States, but it was well known and used by the founders who created those documents, including John Adams:

Democracy, nevertheless must not be disgraced. Democracy must not be despised. Democracy must be respected. Democracy must be honoured. Democracy must be cherished. Democracy must be an essential, an integral part of the Souvereignty, and have a controul over the whole Government, or moral Liberty cannot exist, or any other Liberty.
—John Adams, Letter to John Taylor, 12 De. 1814

Adams distinguishes democracy from other types of republics in a later letter, and in doing so showed himself to be a man of the people, at least insofar as exhibiting an inconsistency in how he chose to apply the apostrophe to his substantives.

Of Republicks the Varieties are infinite—or at least as numerous, as the tunes and changes, that can be rang upon a complete sett of Bells—Of all the Variety’s a Democracy is the most Natural—the most ancient and the most fundamental—and essential of all others.
—John Adams, Letter to J. H. Tiffany, 30 Apr. 1819

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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