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Ouster

In a recent BBC article, Matthew Engel decried the noun ouster as one of many “ugly and pointless” Americanisms infecting British English. While it’s true that ouster has been especially common in American publications over the last few years, the word is actually several centuries old and British in origin.

For the sense of ouster meaning ejection or dispossession, the Oxford English Dictionary lists British examples from more than two centuries before the United States was founded. And for the sense defined as the removal of a politician or regime from power, the earliest examples are likewise British. The first was published in 1782.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would consider ouster a creeping horror infecting the language. Granted, it’s an oddly formed word, and upon first seeing ouster one might assume it means one who ousts, but this shouldn’t be a problem for any English speaker who reads a decent amount. And in any case, English is full of oddly formed words that give color to the language, and most are not questioned.

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Examples

Those revolutions have led to the ouster of the long-time leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. [Independent]

After his ouster by the Taliban in 1996, Rabbani became leader of the Northern Alliance. [The Australian]

The Arab Spring and the February ouster of President Hosni Mubarak raised alarm bells in Jerusalem. [The Irish Times]

The bones, they said, were evidence of crimes committed after Duvalier’s ouster. [Washington Post]

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Comments

  1. Velvet Android says:

    Odd, in that it’s a word I’ve never come across here in Britain – perhaps I should be reading the works of Mr Engel? If not meaning ‘one who ousts’, I couldn’t work out what it does mean – but from reading the examples, in all cases the word to use seems to be “ousting”, i.e. the process in which someone was ousted. Peculiar.

  2. Andy Castor says:

    It’s horrible. It’s ousting.

  3. ouster *sounds* grammatically incorrect. It sounds like it should be ‘someone who ousts’ – ousting is better all round.

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