“Politics” Defined

We reckoned definitions of “politics” might be useful in this first post.   We borrow the definitions with sincere thanks from the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language (online). In this blog, we will discuss and analyze language related to the multiple definitions of politics and related to media and institutions concerned with politics.  Here are the definitions, with examples, and with some names you may recognize, including Thomas Hobbes, Henry Fielding, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Plato, Aristotle, David Hume, T.S. Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel Butler, Benjamin Disraeli, and Aphra Behn:

“With sing. or pl. concord. (App. with plural concord only until the early 18th cent. and thereafter freq. when a set of distinct principles, policies, or practices is in view.)

1. Usu. with capital initial. A treatise on the science or theory of politics; spec. the treatise written by Aristotle.

a1475 (1450) S. SCROPE Dicts & Sayings Philos. (Bodl. 943) 154 Aristotle..componede..the book of Etiques and of Polettiques [a1460 anon. Polletyques]. c1475 tr. C. de Pisan Livre du Corps de Policie 56 The doctrine of Aristotill..is declared in his boke of Polytykys. 1531 T. ELYOT Bk. named Gouernour II. xiv. sig. Xvi, Aristotell in his politykes exorteth gouernours to haue their frendes for a great number of eyen, earis, handes, and legges. c1550 Complaynt Scotl. (1979) Prol. 8 Aristotil sais in the fyrst beuk of his politiques, that [etc.]. 1651 T. HOBBES Philos. Rudim. xii. 185 For these men are invited by their vacancy sometimes to disputation among themselves concerning the Common-weal, sometimes to an easie reading of Histories, Politiques, Orations, Poems, and other pleasant Books. 1661 (title) Sir Harry Vane’s Politicks. 1709 B. KENNETT tr. J. L. G. de Balzac (title) French favorites: or, the seventh discourse of Balzac’s Politicks. a1754 H. FIELDING Jrnl. Voy. Lisbon (1755) 180 Merchants..changed the Metabletic, the only kind of traffic allowed by Aristotle in his Politics, into the Chrematistic. 1831 Encycl. Brit. III. 529/1 His [sc. Aristotle’s] two treatises of the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics, are together a refutation of the erroneous doctrines in moral and political philosophy contained in Plato’s political speculations. 1887 W. L. NEWMAN (title) The Politics of Aristotle, with introduction, two prefatory essays and notes, critical and explanatory. 1916 B. DUGDALE & T. DE BILLE tr. H. von Treitschke (title) Politics. 1989 M. WHITFORD & M. GRIFFITHS Feminist Perspectives in Philos. (BNC) 81 Aristotle said something very interesting in that extract from the Politics which I quoted earlier.

2. The theory or practice of government or administration.

a. The science or study of government and the state.
{dag}the politics, public ethics, the branch of moral philosophy dealing with the state (obs.).

a1529 J. SKELTON Collyn Clout (1545) 625 But noble men borne To lerne they haue scorne,..Set nothyng by polytykes. 1565 T. COOPER Thesaurus at Ciuilis, Scientia ciuilis, morall philosophie, the politikes. a1619 M. FOTHERBY Atheomastix (1622) II. xiv. §2. 356 Morall Philosophie..hath three parts: Ecclesiastickes, Oeconomickes, and Politickes. 1690 J. LOCKE Ess. Humane Understanding II. xxii. 135 That would be to make a Dictionary of the greatest part of the Words made use of in Divinity, Ethicks, Law, and Politicks, and several other Sciences. 1713 Boston News-let. 21-8 Dec. 2/2 A Person of Great Penetration, and a sound Judgment, as well in Divinity as Politicks and Physick. 1739 D. HUME Treat. Human Nature I. Introd. 5 Politics consider men as united in society, and dependent on each other. 1820 T. JEFFERSON Let. 4 Aug. in Writings (1984) 1436 Speaking of Plato,..no writer, antient or modern, has bewildered the world with more ignes fatui, than this renowned philosopher, in Ethics, in Politics and Physics. 1882 B. A. HINSDALE Garfield & Educ. I. 117 He faced to law and politics, to science and to literature. 1902 Royal Charter in Encycl. Brit. (1910) I. 104/1 The promotion of the study of the moral and political sciences, including history, philosophy, law, politics and economics. 1980 Economist 15 Mar. 104/1 Several books of sociology, history, politics and literary criticism uneasily brought together into one weightily erudite but sprawlingly inconclusive survey.

b. Activities or policies associated with government, esp. those concerning the organization and administration of a state, or part of a state, and with the regulation of relationships between states. Cf. POLITIC adj. 3.
Freq. as second element in collocations designating an area of administration, as imperial politics, national politics, domestic politics, foreign politics, etc.

1616 R. ANTON Philosophers Satyrs II. 17 To be practicke, not contemplatiue..in talke profound, And mazes of true politicks of State, That towse graue heads with windings intricate. 1664 S. BUTLER Hudibras II. ii. 104 Remember how in Arms and Politicks, We still have worsted all your holy Tricks. 1690 J. CHILD Disc. Trade x. 194 The Portugeeze (except they alter their Politicks..) can never bear up with us, much less prejudice our Plantations. 1712 J. ARBUTHNOT John Bull III. iii. 13 You would have burst your sides to hear him talk Politicks. 1780 E. BURKE Speech Econ. Reform in Wks. (1792) III. 320 In the management of the colony politicks. 1823 I. D’ISRAELI Curiosities of Lit. 2nd Ser. I. 121 ‘The art of governing mankind by deceiving them’; as politics, ill understood, have been defined. 1857 E. C. GASKELL Life C. Brontë I. iii. 52 He fearlessly took whatever side in local or national politics appeared to him right. 1898 LD. ROSEBERY in Daily News 2 Mar. 4/6 One very simple demonstration of how carefully the Progressive party have cut themselves aloof from Imperial politics. 1926 Chicago Evening Post 12 Nov., It results in part from ignorance of foreign politics and international relations. 1936 H. A. L. FISHER Europe 151 The conspiracies and intrigues which are the web and woof of oriental politics. 1994 Sunday Times 6 Mar. (Books section) VII. 6/5 Is it a sign of maturity or of cultural penury that democratic politics are now more a matter of managerism than of Big Ideas?

c. Public life and affairs involving matters of authority and government. In later use esp.: this sphere viewed as a profession.

1680 A. COWLEY True Effigies of Monster of Malmesbury 11 If Versifying be a Sign of Youth, The Man of Politicks [sc. Hobbes] is youthful still. 1714 D. MANLEY Adventures of Rivella 117 She now agrees with me, that Politicks is not the Business of a Woman. c1740 VISCT. BOLINGBROKE Idea Patriot King xiii. 113 The choice Spirits of these Days, the Men of Mode in Politicks. 1792 C. SMITH Desmond III. x. 131 This excursion into the field of politics, where..we, you know, have always been taught that women should never advance a step. 1826 B. DISRAELI Vivian Grey IV. i, There is no act of treachery, or meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour. 1891 Law Times 92 124/1 Sugden..re-entered politics, and sat in the House of Commons. 1918 B. TARKINGTON Magnificent Ambersons xvii. 256 Politics is a dirty business for a gentleman. 1936 R. C. K. ENSOR England, 1870-1914 vii. 215 He [sc. Rosebery] had come to the front as the Prince Charming of politics{em}young, handsome, rich, eloquent, candid, and popular. 1981 LD. CARRINGTON in Observer 24 May 13/1 If you take yourself too seriously in politics, you’ve had it.

3. a. The political ideas, beliefs, or commitments of a particular individual, organization, etc.

1662 R. COKE (title) A survey of the politicks of Mr. Thomas White, Thomas Hobbs, and Hugo Grotius. 1681 N. TATE Richard II II. iv. 21 Simon Shuttle, I never lik’t thy Politicks, our meanest Brethren pretend to the spirit of Governing. 1736 T. CARTE Hist. Life Duke Ormonde II. 273 He was a fourbe in his politicks..and thought to be a secret convert to the Roman Catholick Religion. 1769 Junius Lett. (1772) I. iv. 35 Most men’s politics sit much too loosely about them. 1792 C. SMITH Desmond II. xix. 278 Such was the colour of his politics. 1842 Nonconformist 2 656 Whig politics..appear to exert a peculiarly unhappy influence upon character. 1856 R. W. EMERSON Eng. Traits xi. 175 Too pleasing a vision to be shattered by..the politics of shoemakers and costermongers. 1897 ‘O. RHOSCOMYL’ White Rose Arno 74 Oh what are all your politics to women? A woman’s politics are the man she loves. 1920 T. S. ELIOT Sacred Wood 23 His literature and his politics and his country life are one and the same thing. 1977 Listener 20 Oct. 498/1 In the 1930s, it was fairly easy to get a handle on the politics of the screenwriting community. 2001 London Rev. Bks. 22 Feb. 33/2 The modest direct-action politics of the Wordsworths, who put honey in their tea instead of sugar as a protest against slavery.

b. The assumptions or principles relating to or underlying any activity, theory, or attitude, esp. when concerned with questions of power and status in a society. Usu. with of.

1874 Internat. Rev. May 314 What we may call the politics of despair, by which is meant..a conviction that the United States are being borne on to an end not seen. 1888 R. KIPLING Phantom ‘Rickshaw 71 We talked politics{em}the politics of Loaferdom. 1902 Westm. Gaz. 21 Aug. 3/2 The fall of a skirt is a point second to none in importance in the politics of a costume. 1958 Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune 14 Jan. 4/3 One reason Gaitskell has been so successful..is that he represents what one commentator has called the politics of envy. 1973 Alderney Jrnl. 8 Oct. 4 Much has been said about the politics of building vivier tanks at the end of the harbour jetty. 1995 .net Feb. 41/1 Before we get stuck into thoughts on the politics of censorship or the joys of long-distance relationships, it’s time for a bit of smut.

c. With indefinite article. A political structure, outlook, or ideology.

1875 E. W. BENSON Let. in A. C. Benson Life (1899) I. 390 The Academic side of a great man is full of a Politics which I am not up to. 1901 Philos. Rev. 10 15 The ambitious aims of a politics which sought to make all of Greece center in Athens. 1906 Daily Chron. 7 Dec. 6/4 She [sc. Australia] has a politics of her own, and Europe is all the poorer for being out of touch with it. 1970 I. L. HOROWITZ Masses in Lat. Amer. i. 23 If the United States model is to succeed in Latin America..a pluralistic politics of competitive, numerous, but autonomous groups must emerge. 1991 Dædalus Summer 74 A politics where social forces confront each other directly.

4. a. Actions concerned with the acquisition or exercise of power, status, or authority. Freq. derogatory.
to play politics: see PLAY v. 13e.

1677 A. BEHN Town-fopp V. 57 Sir Tim. I know there is a way to gain all mortal Woman-kind, but how to hit the Critical Minute of the Berjere{em}Phill. Is past your Politicks at this time Sir. 1693 Humours & Conversat. Town 135 Thou art as much out in thy Politicks, as a Niggardly Father is. 1715 POPE Temple of Fame 36 Calm thinking Villains, whom no Faith can fix, Of crooked Counsels and dark Politicks. 1741 C. MIDDLETON Hist. Life Cicero II. ix. 259 What strange politics do we pursue? 1777 N.-Y. Gaz. & Weekly Mercury 9 June 3/2 Ye cursed varlets! Who can view the consequences of your baneful politicks, and not despise and detest you? 1839 LORD HOLLAND in C. Norton Eng. Laws for Women (1854) 169 Certainly justice is not a thing to sacrifice, either to ‘the convenience of politicks or the pedantry of the law’. 1881 J. MORLEY Cobden I. 121 He was intolerant of the small politics of the Borough-reeve and the Constables. 1930 N. R. STEPHENSON Nelson W. Aldrich xx. 327 The expulsion of the Brownsville soldiers was mere politics, a play to the gallery to make sure the hold of the administration on the Southern Republican machine. 1952 Manch. Guardian Weekly 11 Dec. 13 The ‘politics’ involved..in key posts are not the private appetites of machine politicians or rarely that. 2004 Ottawa Citizen (Nexis) 26 June (Style Weekly) 15 The status politics of jazz is, like the federal election, almost over.

b. Management or control of private affairs and interests, esp. as regards status or position. Cf. office politics n. at OFFICE n. Compounds 1.

1749 H. FIELDING Tom Jones VI. XVI. vii. 57 Mrs. Western was reading a Lecture on Prudence, and Matrimonial Politics to her Niece. 1816 SCOTT Antiquary I. xiii. 283, I was telling it [sc. the story] to Lovel this moment, with some of the wise maxims and consequences which it has engrafted on your family politics. 1855 F. E. SMEDLEY Harry Coverdale iii, The governor’s letter contains a budget of family politics. 1883 Congregational Year Bk. 58 To many, Church questions seem as trivial as the politics of a rookery. 1930 G. F. YOUNG Medici xii. 293 There were very intricate family politics..through which a way must be found if his cherished scheme was ever to bear fruit. 1967 T. W. BLACKBURN Good Day to Die i. 5 I’m not interested in Bureau politics. 2004 Spectator (Hamilton, Ont.) (Nexis) 4 Oct. GO2 It’s not the actual holiday that gets to me. It’s the..family politics.”
We offer our thanks once more to the OED.

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