Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five
You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: satrap

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun’s John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


The administrative structure of the Persian Empire included governors of provinces, or satrapies. Such a governor was a satrap (pronounced SAY-trap). The English word comes from the Greek satrapes, which in turn was derived from the Persian xshahthrapavan.

Given the near-universal suspicion of bureaucracy, it did not take long for the meaning to broaden into the sense of any subordinate ruler, with a tinge of “despotic,” to a contemptuous “subordinate official or supporter, considered subservient,” a henchman. It is not a term of admiration.

Example: From “Found Guilty” in Time, December 19, 1960, after Hulan Jack, the Manhattan borough president, had been found guilty of corruption: “A teen-aged immigrant from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, he began his career at the end of a mop handle, as janitor for the Peerless Paper & Box Co., Inc. But politics was his real interest, and Jack soon earned a reputation as a loyal if lackluster satrap of Tammany Hall.”

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad