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
Who is Teresa Fidalgo? Debunking the fake ghost story that's got Instagram spooked
Regin: Newly uncovered malicious software snooping since 2008 'was developed by a nation state'
The food fad that's starving Bolivia
Kim Kardashian recreates iconic Jean-Paul Goude naked 'Champagne Incident' photo
Henri de Toulouse Lautrec: Google celebrates 150th anniversary of French artist's birth
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
- 1 Universities aren't working us hard enough, say undergraduates
- 2 Lego letter from the 1970s still offers a powerful message to parents 40 years later
- 3 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
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