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noun [countable]

someone, especially a political leader, who actively encourages attitudes of optimism and hope for the world


noun [uncountable]

'Obama's personal narrative represents powerful new symbolism for the US in the world; his rise is a tale of American exceptionalism at work. "I should not be standing here," he often says on the stump. "But my parents gave me love, an education and hope." He campaigns on hope, laughs that he is a hopemonger.'

The Australian 10th January 2008

'Obama's hopemongering is about as American as a message can get – although, in the end, it is mostly about our ability to transcend our imperfections rather than the effortless brilliance of our diversity …'

Time 3rd April 2008

In June 2008, US senator Barack Obama became the first African American to become a major party's nominee in a US presidential election. Though dismissed by some as too idealistic, Obama has consistently based his campaign on strong ethical principles, favouring diplomatic dialogue instead of war, and pointing up concepts such as unity, equality, and civil rights.

Obama allegedly confessed that … the expression hopemonger was in fact his own invention

And underpinning Obama's campaign there is a single word, a word which peppers every media reference to his rise to popularity: hope. Correspondingly, the Democratic candidate, and ostensible front-runner in the forthcoming presidential election, is labelled the hopemonger.

By deliberately ironic analogy with nouns such as warmonger (a politician who actively encourages war), hopemonger describes a political leader who advocates hope and a sense of optimism for a better future. It was initially thought that the expression was an invention of Obama's critics, a word that highlighted his perceived naivety and could be used by the press with disparaging overtones. In fact, Obama has used the word hopemonger to his advantage, identifying with it and adopting it as the hallmark of his campaign. He has consistently referred to the way people 'dismiss him as a hopemonger', or strive to 'boil the hope out of him', whilst at the same time closing many of his speeches with passionate rhetoric on the importance of hope.

Obama allegedly confessed that, though he has undoubtedly been criticized for peddling false hopes and being too idealistic, the expression hopemonger was in fact his own invention.

Background – hopemonger

The expression hopemonger is very new, first appearing in autumn 2007. Current evidence suggests that it is still mainly used in reference to Obama, and it remains to be seen whether the term will grow into use outside the context of the presidential election.

On the model of warmonger and warmongering, hopemonger has spawned a related uncountable noun, hopemongering. Though in principle this should be defined as something like: 'the process of actively encouraging people to feel positive and hopeful about the future', in reality it is often used more cynically, either in reference to the Obama campaign, or the concept of promoting 'false' hopes.

This cynical twist reflects the established pattern of use of the suffix -monger, which conventionally attaches itself to 'negative' concepts, compare warmonger, and also scaremonger, gossipmonger, scandalmonger, etc.

In British English, the suffix -monger is also used productively in nouns which refer to 'sellers', people who trade in a particular commodity, e.g. fishmonger, ironmonger. This use and the more pejorative overtones described above were in fact combined in -monger's original form – the suffix is based on a Latin form mango, which referred to a 'peddler' or 'swindler'.

Special thanks go to Brenda Engberts from Malaysia, competition winner in 2008, for suggesting hopemonger.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 7th July 2008.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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