May 8, 2013

Case File #013.05.08: CRONY

When crony first appeared in the mid-seventeenth century, it was a slang term used mainly by university students and simply meant “a longtime friend or close companion.” It was derived from the Greek adjective khronios, meaning “lasting,” which itself came from the Greek noun khronos, meaning “time.” (For the record, khronos is also the ultimate source of other English time-related words such as chronology, chronicle, and chronic.) The derogatory sense of crony—that is, “a friend or acquaintance with which one engages in some unscrupulous activity”—didn't develop until around 1900, probably as a semantic back-formation from cronyism (“political or economic favoritism to friends and associates without regard to their merits or qualifications”), which came into use about fifty years earlier.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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