In my Latin class, a peer brought up an interesting question; what does the term republic mean? The United States of America is a constitutional republic and I’ve been born and raised there, so why did that question stop me in my tracks and force me to think? I don’t know, but it turns out, I don’t know what a republic is. According to the Oxford Dictionary, republic is a noun which means “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch”. However, this baffled me even more. Yes, we have a president, but how’s that different from a prime minister?
My parents are from India and I visit my family there a lot. So, I’ve grown up watching Bollywood movies and hearing about current news in India. And not to bash on my own country or tarnish India’s reputation, but India is a corrupt country. Some government officials take bribes and elect other corrupt government workers who have more authority and more power. In turn, this builds a corrupt government up. So, why doesn’t this happen in America?
Republic comes from the Latin words ‘res publica’ and can be roughly translated into ‘things/matters of the public’. My interpretation of this definition is that a republic should mean what democracy means to us today. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a democracy is a government that is run by the people and follows the principle ‘majority rules’. Interestingly enough, democracy comes from a Greek word, dēmokratia. Dēmokratia can be split into two parts: dēmos, meaning the people, and kratia, meaning power.
The beautiful thing about words is that they change meaning time after time. That’s why dictionaries are always being updated. Some new words are created and some old ones change meaning. Either way, the history of words is interesting, whether it be republic vs. democracy, or the dumping of French words into the English language after 1066, or anything else in the English language. English is one of the hardest languages to learn and master because it has a lot of languages mixed into it. My old French teacher liked calling the language a ‘huge melting pot’. In English, some words can come from German, other words can be traced back to Latin and Greek and some words can even come from Sanskrit!
So, if anyone asks you whether America is a republic or democracy, you can get away with saying “both” or even “none”! After all, America is a country where we use a different measuring system, Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, and we love being lazy. It’s your call; is the United States of America a democracy or a republic?