demagogue

1 of 2

noun

dem·​a·​gogue ˈde-mə-ˌgäg How to pronounce demagogue (audio)
variants or less commonly demagog
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
demagoguery noun
demagogy
ˈde-mə-ˌgä-gē How to pronounce demagogue (audio)
-ˌgä-jē
-ˌgō-jē
noun

demagogue

2 of 2

verb

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

intransitive verb

: to behave like a demagogue

transitive verb

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

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.

Example Sentences

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
Unlike Bolsonaro, Lula likely won’t pander to evangelical voters by embracing Israel and chumming up to right-wing demagogue Benjamin Netanyahu, who could return to power after elections Tuesday. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 30 Oct. 2022 Italy’s electoral college was introduced by the 1948 constitution, which enshrined antifascist protections against the future possibility of government takeover by a charismatic demagogue. Ruth Ben-ghiat, The Atlantic, 23 Sep. 2022 This says something big — honking — about the Republican nominee, who is a classic MAGA demagogue. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 2 Sep. 2022 Once in a while, far-right nationalists like former president Donald Trump or Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro or a demagogue like the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez opt to make things more interesting, if less diplomatic. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 19 Sep. 2022 French diplomats and some Haitians mocked the multibillion dollar figure as a misguided publicity stunt by a demagogue trying to maintain his grip on power. New York Times, 20 May 2022 Offensive content won’t take down TV’s most divisive demagogue. Washington Post, 6 May 2022 The season also introduces a new demagogue: Vecna, who is mentioned in the trailer as one the gang is ready to fight. Tomás Mier, Rolling Stone, 23 May 2022 Significantly, that came only as Kemp, like a demagogue, simultaneously amplified false election claims. Norman Eisen And Dennis Aftergut, CNN, 26 May 2022
Verb
At least, not if leaders choose not to demagogue the issues. Bill Mckibben, The New Yorker, 3 June 2022 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.

Word History

Etymology

Noun

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

Verb

verbal derivative of demagogue entry 1

First Known Use

Noun

1648, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

1656, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of demagogue was in 1648

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Dictionary Entries Near demagogue

Cite this Entry

“Demagogue.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/demagogue. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

demagogue

noun

dem·​a·​gogue
variants also demagog
ˈdem-ə-ˌgäg
: a person who appeals to the emotions and prejudices of people in order to arouse discontent and advance his or her own political purposes
demagogic
ˌdem-ə-ˈgäg-ik
 also  -ˈgäj-
adjective
demagoguery
ˈdem-ə-ˌgäg-(ə-)rē
noun
demagogy
-ˌgäg-ē
-ˌgäj-
-ˌgō-jē
noun

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