Word of the Day


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a secret plan by a group of people to do something bad or illegal, especially in politics

Origin and usage

The noun conspiracy came into English from the Anglo-Norman French word ‘conspiracie’, which derived from the Latin verb ‘conspirare’, meaning to agree or plot. The prefix ‘con’ means ‘with’, while ‘spirare’ means to breathe, suggesting an image of people who are so close together while plotting that their breaths mingle.


Conspiracies have occurred ever since people started engaging in politics. One notable conspiracy in British history is celebrated, if that’s the right word, around this time of year. I’m talking, of course, about the Gunpowder Plot, a conspiracy hatched in 1603 to blow up Parliament when James I was present and put a Catholic on the throne in his place. The conspiracy, which some believe to have been more of an entrapment by the authorities, was discovered just in time and the conspirators were put to death.

The event is commemorated on November 5 every year, traditionally with a bonfire and fireworks and sometimes with the burning of an effigy of one of those who took part in the conspiracy, Guy Fawkes. Fawkes, who had fought for the Catholic Spanish against the Protestant Dutch, played a relatively minor part in the plot but was put in charge of guarding the explosives that had been placed under the House of Lords. He was discovered there after an anonymous letter was sent; he was arrested, tortured and executed, along with other plotters.

Although Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes’ Night, has to some degree been replaced in popularity by Halloween, which falls a few days earlier, the occasion is still widely marked. In some places, such as Lewes in Sussex, the festivities are elaborate and include the burning of effigies of unpopular or notorious public figures. Thousands of visitors flock to the town to view the spectacle.


“Everyone loves a conspiracy.”

(Dan Brown)

“The trouble with conspiracies is that they rot internally.”

(Robert A. Heinlein)


plot, intrigue

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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