A word in the hand: Havocracy
When a word makes you yawn it's time to go a little 'cracy'
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
If I had a rand in the hand for every time I read the word “democracy” I’d share the total equally among my fellow South Africans and then we’d all go on holiday together (destination to be decided by majority vote, of course).
Democracy is a much used and abused word. It is good and respectable and worth fighting for and all that, but we hear it so frequently it makes most of us yawn.
This week the indefatigable wordsmith Anu Garg – whose “word a day” newsletter all word nerds either do or should receive – introduced me to a much fresher word: “adhocracy”.
Adhocracy, Garg tells us, was invented by Warren Bennis and Philip Slater, authors of The Temporary Society, published in 1968.In its best form, adhocracy means “a flexible, adaptable organisation that lacks a formal structure”. At its worst it is “an organisation characterised by lack of planning, responding to problems as they emerge rather than anticipating and avoiding them”.
I don’t know about you, but there are times when adhocracy perfectly describes my life.
This isn’t the only cracy to join the word party since democracy.
“Kleptocracy”, meaning a group ruled by thieves, came into use in 1819. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the first country to be described as a kleptocracy was Spain, which seems a bit unfair on the Spaniards but there you have it. Perhaps they took the olive out of another country’s martini.
“Meritocracy” – a state in which people are rewarded according to their skills – was coined by British sociologist Michael Young in his 1958 essay, “The Rise of the Meritocracy”. Young’s fantasy sketch of a country ruled by politicians that were chosen only on merit was in fact a satire, although it sounds like a perfectly feasible state of affairs to me.
Call it idiosyncrasy, but all this has me wondering about the untapped cracies we could use to describe other groups in a clear and concise manner. If we had more cracies in our vocabulary we could give poor old overworked democracy a break. That way we wouldn’t get so sick of it and we might actually invite it in for a cup of tea when it came knocking.
So here are a few of the cracies I thought we might introduce to conversation. Please feel free to add more.
Postdocracy: A dinner party at which all the invited guests have at least three academic degrees and converse only in words beginning with “meta” and “neo”.
Mediocracy: A team whose coach awards gold stars to players who make sure they underperform so as not to outshine any of the other players. Some might say Bafana Bafana.Clockracy: An organisation where working hours are rigidly adhered to and no customer is served after closing time. Some might say Home Affairs. Also known as ticktockracy.
Runamokracy: A society in which civil rule has broken down.
Crockracy: An old age home.
Crocracy: A reptile park.
Blockracy: A collective of suburban neighbours who think they have the right to tell other residents what colour to paint their rubbish bins.
Mockracy: Not a real place.
Shamrockracy: Any town in Ireland.
Gridlockracy: The traffic department.
Laughingstockracy: Some might say Bafana Bafana.
Chockablockracy: A country with strict immigration laws. Some might say Australia.Roadblockracy: Major thoroughfares in South Africa during the holiday season.
Poppycockracy: A media organisation that prints only the news its hubristic owner deems to be true (which mostly is not). Some might say … oh, never mind.
Jockracy: The locker rooms at most sporting venues. And most parliaments, come to that.
Frockracy: The Vatican City.
Cellblockracy: Those who run things on the inside. Or TV production companies that make only prison series.
Haddockracy: A place with decidedly fishy leaders.
Hammockracy: A company in which nothing much gets done.Schlockracy: Some might say Hollywood.
Wedlockracy: The institution of marriage.
Paddockracy: Polo, where the playing field is level as long as you are humongously rich.
Padlockracy: The secret society to which all locksmiths secretly belong (there’s a secret handshake in which the initiate is palmed a master key).
Rockracy: Members of the genus geologist, who tell you the age and origins of every pebble they see when you go hiking with them.
Havocracy: A lawless community in which people willy-nilly make up words that end in “cracy”.