Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a ruling elite that is made up of people from the same social background who went to the same schools and universities and know each other socially

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The recently-coined noun chumocracy is a combination of the informal term ‘chum’ meaning friend and the suffix ‘-ocracy’, used to form nouns that describe a particular type of government or rule, or the people who exercise it. Combinations of this type started to appear in the 17th century and became more frequent in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chum itself also dates from the 17th century; its origin is obscure.


A recent investigation of social mobility in the UK has discovered, to no one’s very great surprise, that over 50% of the top jobs in the judiciary, civil service and diplomatic service and over 40% of those in the media are held by people who attended private schools, which educate roughly 7% of the population. Just over 40% of the England cricket team and just under 40% of the Cabinet at the time the study was carried out were also privately educated. The report identified a ‘pipeline’ leading from fee-paying schools through the universities of Oxford and Cambridge into top jobs: 52% of top judges had followed this route. A word that has been coined to describe one aspect of this situation is chumocracy, which was added to the Open Dictionary in 2014. The defining feature of a chumocracy is that those in positions of power and influence give jobs to others like themselves, who have often been their friends and rivals since school days. Similar expressions to refer to this situation are the old boy network and the old school tie.


“Britain is governed by a self-involved clique that rewards group membership above competence and self-confidence above expertise. This chumocracy has finally met its Waterloo.”
(The Economist, December 2018)

Related words

autocracy, kleptocracy, meritocracy, plutocracy

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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