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I have always heard the word "crony" in the context of acquaintanceships between people exploiting their closeness for less than noble means. Despite its definitions in the usual places as simply long-standing friends and close associates, the examples on m-w are both loaded with the aforementioned baggage.

Is it possible to use the word as a neutral (if not positive) synonym for friend?

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The pejorative sense of the word seems to have become dominant in recent years. When I was growing up, the word "crony" was a mildly humorous term to describe one's close friends (of the beer buddy ilk). –  Gilead May 13 '11 at 4:57
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From Etymonline:

crony 1660s, Cambridge student slang, probably from Gk. khronios "long-lasting," from khronos "time," and with a sense of "old friend," or "contemporary."

cronyism 1840, "friendship," from crony + -ism. Meaning "appointment of friends to important positions, regardless of ability" is originally Amer.Eng., from c.1950.

NOAD has crony as "often derogatory," but I would think that using the term outside of a political context could still safely elicit positive associations.

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Really? I have never heard it used positively, unless it be jocularly, just as Malvolio says. –  Marcin May 13 '11 at 17:33
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@Marcin: The word is undergoing pejoration and, you're right, it seems to be pretty far along. It's even rarely used outside of a political (negative) context anymore. –  Callithumpian May 13 '11 at 21:54
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I have never heard crony used except either pejoratively or jocularly. C.f. other words for nefarious associates: minion, partner in crime, henchman. I wouldn't use any of those words in an unmarkedly positive sense and even if I meant it lightheartedly, I would take care to make my meaning clear.

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The issue on the word "crony" depends on your nationality. The word is negative in the USA, positive in the UK.

In America, a crony is a sleazy, almost illegal sort of person.

In England, I recall that a wonderful Prince of Wales, in the 1800s, said to a salesman of hats in a store, "Freddy, start your own store, and I'll bring all my cronies there..." and he did, and he did.

Often there is a grave difference between words in the two nations. For another example: In World War II, Eisenhower and Churchill were talking about a problem, and Churchill wanted to table the subject. This mean, over there, that he wanted to discuss it immediately. But to us, and to Eisenhower, that would mean he wanted to put it on the table and postpone further discussion for the day. An opposite meaning, to be sure.

Crony as a noun is like the verb to table.

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The prince used cronies in a self-deprecating way, because the word is universally pejorative (meaning "intimate friend", part of an exclusive circle). This play on language, particularly this sort of humour, is part of the upper class culture of the time. Because of its implication of a clique, the word is certainly not positive in the UK. –  Andrew Leach May 1 '13 at 14:43
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“Crony” was first popularised among students in the 1660s. The word derived from the Greek khronos (time) and in contrast with the negative associations it has today, originally referred to nothing more than close, long lasting friendship. The idea of this friendship being used for profit was only introduced in the nineteenth century. British army captain Arthur Conolly (1807 – 1842) travelled extensively in Central Asia. He became well known as a travel writer, documenting his experiences in Russia, Persia and Afghanistan and notably sharing details of his alliance with a diplomat “with whom I have established great cronyism”. From the 1950s onward, the crony became emblematic of unfairness. The notion of politicians or business leaders favouring allies with better jobs and greater rewards than they deserved struck a chord with the public, and many reputations have been tarnished by accusations of cronyism. Source EVS Translations: http://www.evs-translations.com/blog-com/crony/

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Is this really an improvement over Callithumpian's answer? –  virmaior Feb 11 at 0:57
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