Andres Aullet


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Is there an alternative to the word "populist" (which often carries negative connotations) to mean "in benefit of a wide range of people"?

Words are powerful. And repetition works. Some will say that a lie just needs to be repeated a few times to start perceiving it as truth.

In politics, the meaning of the word "populist" has been intentionally transformed to denote "something that appeals to the interest of the vulgar, common population".

We humans tend to have a biased image of ourselves. In general we think we are slightly better than we really are when compared to others. Some surveys have been conducted where the vast majority interviewed consider themselves above average, but by the mere mathematical definition of average, about half of the population is above average and the other half is below

I think that there is a subconscious (and very strong) appeal towards the notion that we are not part of the vulgar, common population. Politicians and their PR teams are very aware of this appeal, and have made use of it to successfully equate "populist" to "something that may benefit the other, vulgar, common people; certainly not me"

So I ask the question. Giving the fact that certain social initiatives have the potential to benefit a big portion (say, more than half) of the population, what word do we use to qualify them? Do we need to invent a new word, or can we re-gain the original meaning of the word populist?

  • Dec 15 2011: Is there a word in french (and I am going to spell this wrong, so I will do it phoenetically) "ka-na-ee" that means uneducated masses who are easily swayed or something like that? Think French Revolution and demagogues...

    I'd love to know the right spelling and definition if anyone has an insight...its a great word to describe Americans in general today....
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    Dec 2 2011: How about re-gaining the original meaning of the word popular?
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      Dec 2 2011: Hi Gerald, thanks for your comment...

      I think i can use your help though, I must admit that I only know the limited meaning of "popular" as "something liked or accepted by many". And yes, I know populist initiatives are usually popular in this sense (liked by many) but so are many professional soccer players (very popular in Mexico at least!) and somehow that does not fully convey the meaning of something that will benefit a large sector of the population

      Does the word popular contain some of that in their original meaning?

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        Dec 2 2011: Well "popular" comes from the french "populaire". Populaire means "something that benefits a large sector of the population, but also means "famous" which means talked about. It's easy to see what links the two.

        "Populiste" or "populisme" is highly pejorative in french, meaning cheap seduction of the uneducated mass, or something like that.
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          Dec 2 2011: Great explanation, and yes i think that in other languages as well, populist has been used as a pejorative.

          I come from a lower/middle class from mexico, and yet, i remember vividly as i was growing up hearing adult conversations and even tv shows, where there was always these references to the "uneducated" masses. Needless to say, everybody I knew went to great lengths to show that they were above that adjective.

          Just like marketing and advertisement make use of the concept "aspirational customer" (for example, some who would like to see themselves as sports people will buy a "sport style SUV", some who would like to see themselves as "classy" will buy a mercedes benz, some who would like to see themselves as youthful and rebel will buy an ipod, etc etc), I believe politicians make use of this "aspirational" aspect of people that would like to see themselves as above the uneducated masses

          I like the original meaning "populaire" as you have stated, without the emphasis on "famous". I just cannot think of a good word for it!