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See also: démagogue


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From Middle French démagogue, from Ancient Greek δημαγωγός (dēmagōgós, popular leader, mob leader), from δῆμος (dêmos, people) + ἀγωγός (agōgós, guide).



demagogue (plural demagogues)

  1. (derogatory) A political orator or leader who gains favor by pandering to or exciting the passions and prejudices of the audience rather than by using rational argument.
    • 1938, O'Neill, translating The Knights by Aristophanes, 424 BC, lines 191-193,
      A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.
    • 1949, S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, p. ix,
      If the majority of our fellow-citizens are more susceptible to the slogans of fear and race hatred than to those of peaceful accommodation and mutual respect among human beings, our political liberties remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue.
    • 1954, Reinhard Luthin, American Demagogues, p. 3,
      What is a demagogue? He is a politician skilled in oratory, flattery and invective; evasive in discussing vital issues; promising everything to everybody; appealing to the passions rather than the reason of the public; and arousing racial, religious, and class prejudices—a man whose lust for power without recourse to principle leads him to seek to become a master of the masses. He has for centuries practiced his profession of 'man of the people'. He is a product of a political tradition nearly as old as western civilization itself.
    • 2010, Evan Thomas, Why It’s Time to Worry, Newsweek,
      It is true that America has a paranoid streak in its politics, and demagogues come along from time to time to feed on anger and resentment.
  2. (historical) A leader of the people.

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demagogue (third-person singular simple present demagogues, present participle demagoguing, simple past and past participle demagogued)

  1. (intransitive and transitive) To speak or act in the manner of a demagogue; to speak about (an issue) in the manner of a demagogue.
    • c. 1938, Maury Maverick, The New York Times, quoted in 1970, Richard B. Henderson, Maury Maverick: A Political Biography, page 183,
      I never demagogued on our serious questions and stood for civil liberties.
    • 1995, Richard J. Carroll, An Economic Record of Presidential Performance: From Truman to Bush[1], page 171:
      On the subject of foreign aid, although it is a relatively unimportant economic category, it is an area of expenditure that has frequently been demagogued and has been a favorite target of politicians during tough times in the domestic economy.
    • 2006, Patrick Hynes, In Defense of the Religious Right[2], page 194:
      Talk to anyone with half a brain (and at least half a heart) and they will tell you, regardless of their position, that this is an issue to be weighed, not demagogued.