Final Word

Is South Africa a “craptocracy”?


With the state the country’s supposed democracy presently finds itself in, South Africa might just have added a new word to the English vocabulary.

One can create an almost never-ending list of words in the English language with the suffix “-cracy” attached to it – most from the world of politics. The best-known ones are words like democracy, autocracy, bureaucracy and, especially lately in South Africa, kleptocracy.

But, then there are also the lesser known ones, like adhocracy (indicating a flexible and informal style of organization and management), corpocracy (corporate governance), dulocracy (government by slaves) and the one that many men know well, gynaecocracy – government by a woman or women.

And, one some list I came across during the research for this column, even include the word pornocracy, for rule by prostitutes.

Where does -cracy come from

Like happens so often when one is tracing the etymology of an English word, you end up in Greece, even if they found its way to English through a third language like French, as happened in the case of -cracy.

The combination form –cracy, indicating a regime of government, rule or dominating influence, came to us via the French –cratie from Greek’s –kratia, meaning ‘power, rule, the original root word being kratos meaning ‘strength.’

It came to French, in turn, from Latin’s -cratia. It arrived in English sometime during the 18th century, and the connective -o- became regarded as part of the suffix.

A new -cracy

Another word of Greek origin, which I picked up from our local bookstore here in Melkbos Strand, where I live, gave me the idea for which I think can be an addition to the list of -cracy combination words.

The word is, the less often used cacoethes, indicating an urge to do something inadvisable or, according to some sources, “an uncontrollable urge or desire, especially for something harmful.

This word arrived in English in the mid-16th century via Latin from Greek’s kakoēthes, meaning ‘ill-disposed’, from kakos, meaning ‘bad’ and ēthos, indicating ‘disposition.’

Readers, especially South African ones, will probably immediately guess where I’m heading with this if they look at how most sources indicate the pronunciation of the word: “kak-oh-ee-theez.”

It just so happens that one of the root words of cacoethes is kakos, which originate from kaka for ‘poop’ or ‘feces.’ In many languages, including Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Romanian kaka, with exactly the same meaning, became caca. The ‘k’ was retained in most Germanic languages, from Danish’s kakke to Durch’s kakken and German’s kacken.

The word caca also popped up in English slang in the late 19th century for money and, according to some source stuck around as a “nursery” word. One also finds it in Irish as caccaim.

The word is generally translated in English to crap, first recorded in 1846 as indicating "defecate."  It originally came from the Middle English word crappe for grain that was trodden underfoot in a barn.

But, the English word has wider applications than just the vulgar ones that came from Greek’s kakos. Crap can also mean ‘nonsense, drivel, falsehood, exaggeration, refuse, rubbish,’ and a few more.

Final word

But, it is more in line with the original root word of chaff from grain that was trodden underfoot, that I want to suggest that South Africa’s democracy over the last few years has been turned into a grapocracy.

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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