Autarchy - autarky

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The abstract noun autarchy, with the related agent noun autarch and adjective autarchic, and a separate abstract noun autarky can be confused. They all come from Greek; all contain the element 'aut[o]-' ('self'), and autarchy and autarky sound identical. This is largely because there is no sound '-ch-' in mainstream modern English. In the original Greek, however, the two letters κ and χ (kappa and chi) were different.

The word ἀρχός‚ (archos) means 'ruler'. This is quite different from, and unconnected with, the word ἀρκεῖν (arkein), which means 'to suffice' or 'to be enough'.

  • Autarchy, then, means 'rule by oneself' or 'tyranny, despotism', the form of government in which one person has all the central control. (The Greek root 'mon[o]-' meaning 'single, alone', sometimes has a similar function to 'aut[o]-'; hence the word 'monarch'.) This is the word you are much more likely to find in books about Politics, Political Theory or History. It is less ambiguous, and therefore better, to use the word autocracy, which has an almost identical meaning.
  • Autarky, on the other hand, has the very different meaning of 'self-sufficiency', although it sounds the same. This word is rarer than autarchy. It is most likely to be found in texts on the environment, environmental politics and Economics. AWE's advice would be to avoid the word autarky. Use 'self-sufficiency' instead.

(In some forms of written English, the Greek letter χ is represented by the English letter 'k', and so the possibility of ambiguity is greatly increased. The two words are written indistinguishably. OED, indeed, records autarky as one variant spelling of autarchy. Here, as is one of its functions, OED is recording a mistaken usage, not one to follow.)