My question is simple. Why is Obama’s team using the word czar to describe people that are being selected to oversee changes in the country? Are they trying to remind us of Russian under czars and that they were overthrown during the Russian Revolution? So, I decided that if the word was being used that I would put the definition on my website. I found the one I like best because it gives a historical explanation to how the Russians began to use the word czar on www.answers.com. So much so that I am quoting it on this site.
1. also tsar or tzar (zär, tsär) A male monarch or emperor, especially one of the emperors who ruled Russia until the revolution of 1917.
2. A person having great power; an autocrat: “the square-jawed, ruddy complacency of Jack Farrell, the czar of the Fifteenth Street police station” (Ernest Hemingway).
3. Informal. An appointed official having special powers to regulate or supervise an activity: a racetrack czar; an energy czar.
[Russian tsar’, from Old Russian tsĭsarĭ, emperor, king, from Old Church Slavonic tsěsarĭ, from Gothic kaisar, from Greek, from Latin Caesar, emperor. See caesar.]
Here is the origin of the word for the same site.
Many countries have had kings and emperors, monarchs and tyrants, dictators and autocrats. But only Russia has had a real czar.
The character of a czar was established by the first Russian ruler to bear that title, Ivan IV. When he was seventeen, in 1547, he was crowned czar of all Russia. By the time of his death thirty-seven years later, he had earned the nickname Ivan the Terrible. He governed absolutely, and he ruthlessly eliminated anyone who stood in his way, including not only the nobility but also his son and heir, Ivan, whom he killed in a rage. He had seven wives, not at once but in succession. When he tired of one, she would be murdered or sent off to a nunnery. But he was also intelligent, learned, and a talented writer. It was during his reign that printing was introduced to Russia.
Thus Ivan, and his successors, gave a twist to a 1600-year-old name for a ruler. It had begun in ancient Rome with the family name of Julius Caesar. Julius’s adopted son Octavius, later Augustus Caesar, became the first Roman emperor. After him, Roman emperors took Caesar as a title. The word made its way into Russian as tsar. Our spelling czar comes from a Latin commentary on Ivan’s coronation published in 1549; czar appears in English writing as early as 1555. In the wake of czar came ukase, the Russian word for an imperial decree and thus for any authoritarian edict. We began using it in English as early as 1729.
Updated on 2/24/2009 at 10:55AM
It was suggested that I find a definition that shows when the word was first used in the United States as slang as it is now. I found this article on Slate that gives a good history of the word. I am glad to hear that Obama’s team isn’t that happy with the use of the word either.
Slate on the word czar
Oh, and I guess I should point out that I have studied Russian history since high school, so when I hear the word czar, I associate it with the autocrat rulers of Russia and not the slang use we have for it in the United States.