dem·a·gogue also dem·a·gog (dĕmə-gôg′, -gŏg′)
1. A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.
2. A leader of the common people in ancient times.
tr.v. dem·a·gogued, dem·a·gogu·ing, dem·a·gogues also dem·a·goged or dem·a·go·ging or dem·a·goges
Usage Problem To speak about (an issue, for example) in the manner of a demagogue.
[Greek dēmagōgos, popular leader : dēmos, people; see dā- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots + agōgos, leading (from agein, to lead; see ag- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots).]
Usage Note: Even though demagogue has been used as a verb meaning "to speak about something in the manner of a demagogue" since the 1600s, the verb has kept a low profile in the language. Recently, however, it has become a favorite of newspaper columnists. The Usage Panel does not view the verb with much favor in either its transitive or intransitive use. In our 1997 survey, 94 percent rejected it in the sentence Clinton will demagogue Medicare, unwilling to acknowledge that fundamental reforms need to be made in the system. A similar percentage rejected an example in which a representative can demagogue about price-fixing. Perhaps this resistance should not be surprising, since the use of familiar nouns as verbs is often the subject of complaints.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus