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A putsch (pronounced 'pootch', IPA: /pʊtʃ/) is a name for a form of coup d'état (pronounced 'coo day ta' (IPA: /ˌkuː de ˈtɑː/)), often abbreviated as coup ('coo', /kuː/): both are sudden, often violent, changes of power or government by unconstitutional means. (For other uses of coup, see coup.)

  • A coup d'état typically involves a seizure of power by a political group that takes control of key ministries or capabilities, such as broadcasting, and may involve the arresting of members of the party in power. It may involve military force: one of the key 'opposition groups' in many coups is the army. A coup may be carried out by the party constitutionally in power: OED defines coup d'état as "a sudden and decisive stroke of state policy; spec[ifically] a sudden and great change in the government carried out violently or illegally by the ruling power."
  • A putsch typically is an attempt by a party outside government, or even outside the normal constitutional political process, to depose the current government and take control of the country.OED calls it "An attempt to overthrow a government, esp[ecially] by violent means; an insurrection or coup d'état" - but note the use of 'coup d'état' to define 'putsch'. Nice distinctions between the two are best left to political scientists.
Etymological note: coup d'état is a French phrase, meaning literally 'blow or stroke of [the] state.' It is first recorded in English in 1646. It is best written with an acute accent é, as in its native language.
Putsch is a Swiss German word which meant originally 'a knock', 'a thrust', 'a blow', or 'a sudden rush' or 'surprise attack'. (There is a related verb, putschen, meaning 'to riot'.) Putsch first attained use as a metaphor for a form of political action in connection with the Zurich Putsch of 1839, called Züriputsch in Swiss German, and became widely known after the unsuccessful attempt by Hitler and the Nazi party to seize power in 1923, an event named the Beer Hall putsch or the Munich putsch.