Monday, 20 February, 2006
One of the advanced Toastmasters programs is interpretive reading, which involves reading out loud a passage from a book or perhaps a speech written by somebody else and trying to capture the intended voice and emotion. I'm not there in my education, so I'm not really "up" on the full purpose of this exercise.
Tonight, one of our members read part of the speech that Susan B. Anthony gave after being arrested for casting an "illegal vote" in the 1872 federal election. In her reading, the presenter used the word, "obligarchy" in several places, and after the meeting I asked her if she meant "oligarchy." She showed me the transcript and, sure enough, the word was "obligarchy." I'd never heard the word before.
I might have a slightly larger vocabulary than average, but I'm decidedly not a the word junkie that many of my friends are. Still, I was surprised to find that I was unfamiliar with this particular word. When I got home, I learned why. Neither dictionary.com nor m-w.com has an entry for the word. A friend looked up the word in her Oxford English Dictionary. No dice. It's not even listed as an alternate spelling of "oligarchy." A Google search of the word returns the transcript of Susan B. Anthony's speech as the first hit, and the balance of the 500 or so hits use the word without definition. Some use it interchangeably with "oligarchy" in the same paragraph. One site I saw lists "obligarchy" as a common misspelling of "oligarchy," and in fact Microsoft Word's spelling checker suggests "oligarchy" as a replacement.
From all I can determine, Susan B. Anthony coined the term, but it's not a widely-accepted word.
So, my question to those of you who are much better with words than I am, is "obligarchy" a word? Did Susan B. use it in ignorance to mean "oligarchy," or did she purposely coin the term in order to stretch the meaning to imply some form of obligation? Or perhaps the word existed before Susan B. used it in her speech.