Emperor Akihito Wishes to Abdicate

Japan's emperor is ready to step down

Abdicate spiked in lookups on August 8-9, 2016, after Emperor Akihito of Japan gave a televised speech—his second ever—in which the 82-year-old expressed his wish to step down from the throne. There is no provision for abdication in the Japanese tradition, laid out in the set of rules called Imperial House Law.

Abdicate means “to leave the position of being a king or queen” or, more broadly, “to fail to do what is required by (a duty or responsibility).” It comes from the Latin abdicātus, the past participle of abdicāre, and is based in part on dicere (“to speak”), so abdicate shares an etymological connection with a number of other English words, such as vindicate, indict, and contradict.

The earliest meaning of the word was a bit different than the one that is commonly given to it today; abdicate initially meant “to disown” or “to disinherit,” as may be seen in its use in the 1572 bookThe Art or Craft of Rhetoryke:

where as the party defendant wyll lay against hym that he is abdicate or forsaken of his father, and so can nat by the law haue any parte of his goodes.

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