Sunday 04 January 1998
Its inventor was probably Michael Young (since himself ennobled as Lord Young of Dartington), already then a bright star of the intellectual Left and a convinced egalitarian, whose book The Rise of the Meritocracy came out in 1958. This was a satirical history of British society from 1870 to 2033, and it did a lot to persuade educationists that the 11-plus exam ought to be abolished, because the grammar school system established a pecking order as divisive in its way as the property-based class system had been. Young meant meritocracy to be understood as a nasty, slightly ridiculous word, no better than aristocracy, and without aristocracy's etymological credentials, being a bastard mixture of Latin and Greek - meritum is the Latin for something deserved, kratos the Greek for power - and thus putting itself in the same category as made-up words like laundromat and washeteria.
But then Conservatives, who believed in promotion by merit, made it their own. Even some Socialists, having seen the cover of the much-talked- of-book but not had a chance to open it, failed to realise that it was a satire, but for most of them meritocracy was always a rebarbative word, suggesting an undesirable elitism. Now we have a distinguished contributor to the Left-wing Guardian telling us with every sign of approval that our society aspires to be meritocratic. Michael Young must have wished he'd never coined the wretched word.
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
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