Demagoguery and How to Pronounce It

By Maeve Maddox

As the 2016 US presidential election campaign slouches toward November, the words demagogue, demagogic, and demagoguery make frequent appearances in the media.

For example, in a Sunday morning interview with Rachel Martin, NPR stalwart Mara Liasson remarked on the reaction of other Republican candidates to Donald Trump: “They’re talking about the demagoguery and the authoritarian, violent rhetoric.”

What drew my attention to the radio interview was Liaison’s pronunciation of the word demagoguery. She pronounced the second g with a soft sound: /dem-uh-GAHJ-er-ee/.

Both g’s in demagoguery are “hard.” The spelling gue is always pronounced /g/, as in tongue, league, and prologue.

Demagoguery is defined as “the principles or practices of a demagogue.”

In modern usage, a demagogue is “a political leader who appeals to the passions and prejudices of the mob in order to obtain power and further his own interests.”

An unlimited Google search for demagoguery and demagogue gives the following results:

“demagoguery” about 508,000 results
“demagogue” about 484,000 results

A search for demagogue limited to the year 2000 brings about 2,260 results. Of the ten summaries that come up on the first page of results, nine refer to definitions and discussions of the word. Only one refers to a politician as a demagogue: “He’s a Demagogue, That’s What He Is: Hodding Carter on Huey Long.”

The Ngram Viewer goes only to 2000. On the graph, the word demagogue peaks in 1862 and then drops precipitately.

Note: The noun demagogue is verbed by some speakers:

He’s merely made use of an existing, flawed system to demagogue his way into the hearts and minds of angry low-information voters, of whom there are a lot.

The OED and the Howjsay pronunciation site give /dem-uh-GAH-gik/ (both g’s “hard”) as the first pronunciation and /dem-uh-GAH-jik/ (second g “soft”) as an alternative pronunciation.

Merriam-Webster gives only the hard g pronunciation: /dem-uh-GAH-gik/.

Note: When I began this post, I did not think it necessary to remark on the pronunciation of the o in demagogue. However, a friend told me that she heard NBC’s Brian Williams pronounce demagogic with a long o as well as with a soft g: /dem-uh-GO-jik/.

Broadcasting networks do have pronunciation guides. Perhaps their announcers don’t always remember to consult them.

American pronunciation for the three words—demagogue, demagogic and demagoguery—is with short o (as in hot) and hard g (as in got): /dem-uh-GAHG/, /dem-uh-GAH-gik/ and /dem-uh-GAHG-er-ee/.

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4 Responses to “Demagoguery and How to Pronounce It”

  • venqax

    No, demogogic is pronounced dem-oh-go- Jic. Just like every other -gic ending in the language (logic dictating this on 2 levels). That is just basic. Why OED would even list -gik with a hard G is mysterious. All the others are hard Gs– that’s why they have Us after their Gs– demogogUe, demogogUery. Just like demogogic does not. Gs before Is or Es are soft. There is no reason AT ALL demogogic should be an exception unless flat and blank ijnorance is considered a reason. For Wilson, it probably is.

  • Cygnifier

    “Tongue”? —
    I’m at a loss as to how the pronunciation of “tongue”
    (MW: \ˈtəŋ\)
    relates at all to “demigogue”
    (MW: tongueˈdeməˌɡäɡ/ ).

  • venqax

    @Cygnifier: It doesn’t relate at all to demagogue. Demagogue comes from Greek. Tongue is Old English, Germanic, and originally spelled tunge. The UE got added to the spelling much later and for no apparent reason. The sound represented by the digraph NG followed by an ER is treated differently from a G by itself, hard or soft– finger, linger vs singer, bringer vs binger, ranger. There really is no good reason why tongue is spelled the way it is.

  • Kelly

    I just have to say I love your allusion to Yeats in the first line. Well done.

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