aristocracy |ˌariˈstäkrəsē|

noun ( pl. –cies) [treated as sing. or pl. ] (usu. the aristocracy)
the highest class in certain societies, esp. those holding hereditary titles or offices : the ancient Polish aristocracy had hereditary right to elect the king.
• a form of government in which power is held by the nobility.
• a state governed in this way.
• figurative a group regarded as privileged or superior in a particular sphere : high-level technocrats make up a large part of this “technical aristocracy.”

ORIGIN late 15th cent.: from Old French aristocratie, from Greek aristokratia, from aristos ‘best’  + -kratia ‘power.’ The term originally denoted the government of a state by its best citizens, later by the rich and wellborn, hence the sense [nobility,] regardless of the form of government (mid 17th cent.).

USAGE Aristocracy, oligarchy, and plutocracy are sometimes confused. All mean some form of rule by a small elite. Aristocracy is rule by a traditional elite, held to be made up of ‘the best’ people, and is usually hereditary. Oligarchy is literally rule by a few. Plutocracy is rule by the (necessarily few) very rich.

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