When the term ‘city’ is mentioned, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? High-rises that seem to be touching the sky? Or maybe roads that are jam-packed with traffic? Perhaps a place that has an abundance of opportunities. Whatever your definition of city might be, there’s no denying that they act as centers of trade, commerce and administration. This quality also makes them a hotbed for politics. So it should come as no surprise that the word ‘politics’ is distantly related to a synonym of the term ‘city’ – ‘metropolis’. To know more about this relation we’ll have to hop on a time machine and travel to ancient Greece.
Cities built by the Greeks were mostly built on hills. This was a clever move which made it easier to fortify and defend them in case of attacks. Such cities came to be called acropolis, derived from Greek words for elevated ground or peak (akros) and city (polis).
This is how the first Greek ‘states’ came into existence- as cities on elevated grounds, surrounded by a few villages. As their population increased, they started building colonies in distant places and the city (or state) of origin was called metropolis, literally meaning ‘mother city’ (Greek metr: mother). Now, the word is used to denote a large, central city of a region or state. Something related to the city is called metropolitan such as Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.
The citizens of these metropolises were called polites in Greek. The related Latin word politia (civil administration) served as the inspiration for police (which initially helped with administration and later with public order), policy and polity.
While policy was used by the Greeks only in matters related to governance, in the modern word its meaning has broadened to include a plan, principle or course of action. For example, company policy refers to principles of conduct set forth by a company. The related term ‘polity’ refers to an organised society with a particular form of government.
So we have a city. We have the rules and regulations in ‘policy’. We have the administrative executives in ‘police’ What are we missing? Politics, of course!
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.Groucho Marx, American Comedian.
The meaning of Politics remains unchanged, much like the basics of the profession itself. It refers to the activities associated with the governance of a state or country (or cities, as was the case with the Greeks). With the increase in competition for control of the city, people resorted to less-than-fair means. Hence ‘politics’ acquired an additional sense of manipulation and power struggle, office politics for instance. Not to leave those behind who maintain a distance from the chaos, apolitical refers to someone not interested or something not involved in politics.
Politic, although only missing an ‘s’, conveys quite a different meaning than it’s cousin. It carries both a negative and a positive connotation. Depending upon the context, it can mean to be judicious or prudent or to be diplomatic and cunning. When prefixed with Im– we get Impolitic. It only has a negative connotation – conveying that something is injudicious or not according to good policy.
A quick look at the summary of above mentioned words should prepare you for the exercises ahead.
|Greek cities built on hills
|A large or central city of a state or region
|Relating to a metropolis
|Civil force of a state responsible for detection of crime and maintaining public order
|An organised society with a particular form of government
|A plan, principle or course of action
|Activities related to the governance of a state or country; manipulation or power struggle
|Relating to politics
|Someone not interested or something not involved in politics
|Judicious and prudent; diplomatic and shrewd or cunning
|Injudicious or not according to good policy