My Word: Ineptocracy

I was at the bowling club when a fellow walked up to me and shoved a piece of paper in my hand. The heading said ineptoracy. It had a spelling mistake.

The heading should have been ineptocracy. The word was unusual, so maybe it was a new word. He might even have made up the word.

The word, allegedly from the Department of Defence, had an explanation that led me to believe it was a made-up word.

The explanation said: “A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society are least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.”

I consulted Collins, Heinemann, Macquarie, Webster, and Readers Digest. I checked Johnson and the First Real Dictionary from 1604.

Another Readers Digest dictionary in my possession said inept meant ”inefficient, incompetent, unskilled untrained, unqualified, without dexterity, bungling, ineffective, ineffectual, awkward, clumsy, maladroit”. I would question unskilled. The most ept person in the world (yes, there is such a word) has to get a skill somewhere.

My 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary didn’t also include ineptocracy, so I confidently expected it was a made-up word.

My big dictionary listed several words, including inept, inepticality, ineptitude, ineptly and ineptness, but no ineptocracy.

The earliest use of the word inept, that I could find,  was in 1603. In that year, Body of Man said: “A ineptitude to learn sheweth a drie and different braine”. In the same year, Leviath talked about the differences between apt and inept.

Ineptitude means the quality of being totally inept. Ineptly means in a totally inept manner.

Ept came into the language very late, would you believe 1938, as an antonym for inept. It meant, according to my big dictionary, adroit, appropriate, effective. In that year, E. B. White in a letter said: “I am much obliged to you for your warm, courteous and ept treatment of a rather week, skinny subject.” Several other people started using ept from that date.

But I wonder if ept came from the word apt. Apt, according to my big dictionary, started life in 1791 to mean fitting. It changed to “to make fit” and then to suit.

lauriebarber.com; lbword@midcoast.com.au

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