Thursday, June 27, 2013

Crony Capitalism

 Wendy from Lake Leelanau called in to comment on the phrase crony capitalism. It refers to practices that subvert the free market and legal constraints, relying instead on favoritism, payoffs, and a good-old-boy network. Wendy’s point was that the word cronyism by itself would cover the practice, since it represents a perversion of legitimate capitalism.

She then asked about the origin of the word crony. There are two words that share the crone/crony spelling. Crone, from the Dutch, started out meaning an old ewe. Then it came to mean a cantankerous, withered old woman. It has nothing to do with cronyism and everything to do with witch stereotyping.

Crony was 17th century college slang for an intimate friend or associate. By the 19th century, in America, cronyism had come to mean the appointment of friends to government posts even if they weren’t particularly qualified. There’s the predecessor of crony capitalism.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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