Czars and the English Language

Who started this habit of calling government employees in charge of special initiatives “czars”?  I speak of our most recently appointed – or anointed – “Ebola Czar,” Ron Klain.

Am I the only one who has a problem using a word which is a remnant of the Feudal age in Russia to define someone in a leadership position in a modern Democracy?  Whatever happened to the plain old word  “chief?”  Perhaps, in our ignorance, we’ve cast that one into the bin of political correctness, mistakenly believing that it is somehow insulting to Native Americans.

“Chief” is derived from the French, meaning the person with the highest rank, whose modern usage is the word “chef.”

Voilà!  A clue!  Perhaps our declining use of the word chief is tied to the rise of “freedom fries” and the scrubbing of all references to the French from our vocabulary.  Which reminds me of the time when President George W. Bush, in lamenting the lack of hustle displayed by the French, said “They don’t even have a word for entrepreneur!”

Actually, they do – entrepreneur.  And we have a word, better words, than the word czar.

 

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