noun: a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power
The nation’s voters ousted their incumbent president for a demagogue who persuasively capitalized on fears of another recession.
“Messrs. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg were personally far less popular in Scotland than the fluent demagogue Mr. Salmond. Did this older, gnarlier Scot ignite feelings of envy and inadequacy in the English trio’s patrician breasts?” — Quentin Letts, Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2014
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. Mid-17th-century writers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Dryden—and, later, Jonathan Swift—employed the English word that way. But, at the same time, the word took a negative turn, coming to suggest one who uses powers of persuasion to sway and mislead. “A plausible, insignificant word, in the mouth of an expert demagogue, is a dangerous and a dreadful weapon,” declared Robert South, known for his sermons, in 1716.