Ever notice how wealthy Russians are oligarchs and tycoons, but wealthy Americans are entrepreneurs and magnates?
Oligarch comes from the Greek, meaning “rule by the few”.
A Russian oligarch is a businessperson who rapidly accumulated wealth after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
They are often crooked, as one might expect, benefiting from close relationships with the government, tax evasion, and other illegal activities. It’s a power structure where power rests with a small number of people, and the word is generally used to imply mobster-like associations.
A tycoon generally refers to a wealthy entrepreneur or investor who controls a firm or industry. Tycoon comes from Japanese, meaning “great lord.”
We use other words to describe the extremely wealthy in Russia: czar (supreme leader or emperor), mogul (emperor or empire), and baron (an unelected rank of nobility) come to mind.
We don’t often direct these words at ourselves, though.
Bill Gates is a “business magnate, investor author, philanthropist and humanitarian” according to Wikipedia. Magnate, from Latin, means “great man.”
Jeff Bezos is a “technology entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist.”
Elon Musk is a “business magnate, investor and engineer.”
And so on.
We flatter our rich, connected, controlling members of the society by the language we currently use. This wasn’t always the case.
In earlier times we used terms such as robber barons, monopolist, fat cat, or tory of industry. These words and phrases had a derogatory weight to them.
Shall we update the way we refer to the very rich and powerful?
Fat cat tycoon Elon Musk? Tory of industry and oligarch Bill Gates? Robber baron and monopolist Jeff Bezos?
Does the shoe fit?