In Latin America, we have the Portuguese/Spanish word golpista (from the word golpe = coup d'état). In the British media, I've read coup monger and also putschist (from German word putsch = coup d'état). But are these expressions as common in English as golpista is for Latin Americans?

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    "coups d'etat" seem to be a very rare occurrence in the history of anglophone countries. That's why the English had to adopt the French term.
    – Centaurus
    Dec 9, 2016 at 0:59
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    I would say plotter but it's going to be very difficult to source.
    – Spencer
    Dec 9, 2016 at 1:12
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    @Centaurus Roger Mortimer? Henry Bolingbroke? Edward of York? Henry Tudor? -- but then Treason doth never prosper--what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason. Dec 9, 2016 at 2:00
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    Coup d'etater, clearly. ;) Dec 9, 2016 at 4:34
  • 26
    @EiríkrÚtlendi: No, a coup de tater is when somebody swipes your chips... Dec 9, 2016 at 5:50

13 Answers 13


There is no specific English agent noun for the leader or participants in the modern sense of a coup d'état, at least in common usage.

You will usually find coup coupled with a generic term for a leader. In fact, coup leader has the most results in COCA and the BNC among all my searches. Coup organizer is roughly equivalent though much less common. In headlines or in less formal usage, coup chief or coup head might also be suitable.

Coup ringleader and coup boss are dismissive and pejorative, as would be other negative words coupled with coup: plotter, conspirator, schemer, etc. You need not formulate these as attributives, either; you're more likely to read about the orchestrator of the coup than the coup orchestrator, for example.

One could make the case for usurper or deposer, but I would not say they are commonly applied to actors in a coup d'etat. A deposer can be one who deposes in the sense of removing another from power, but this sense has been largely overshadowed by the legal sense of deposer, one who collects a deposition (sworn testimony). Usurper in contrast is well-understood, but it carries strong connotations of the seizure of a crown (or something likened to a crown). It's unremarkable to say Henry VII was the usurper who ousted Richard III, but it's unusual to say that Nasser was the usurper who overthrow Farouk. After all, there was no longer a throne to usurp— Nasser replaced the monarchy, not just the monarch.

Putschist, which you have mentioned, is established, but its usage seems to be falling. Rarer still is coupist, which can be found in a dictionary or two—

one that attempts or supports a coup d'etat (MW)

— but little elsewhere.

Google Ngram of various terms for the leader of a coup

  • Comment on your ngrams - the terms would typically be used without the "coup" modifier. It's usually going to be obvious from the context.
    – OrangeDog
    Dec 9, 2016 at 17:23
  • @OrangeDog good point, but then that same qualification can apply to any context. Like 'Haddock's Eyes', There's what you call it, what it is, how you refer to it once introduced, etc etc. Often when one asks 'What is the term for X?', it is either intended to be used entirely out of context, or at the beginning where one is setting the context (and it is not know yet). Once context is established, 'leader', 'member' or even 'them' will do.
    – Mitch
    Dec 9, 2016 at 21:02
  • "coupist" uncommon, but "-ista" increasingly common, e.g. "trumpista" MacMillan and the Urban Dictionary, after Spanish "chavista". Google finds "coupista" followers of a "coup leader", and here, both wrt Latin American coups. Also Geraldo twitter, and some Spanish web pages.
    – Krazy Glew
    Jan 7, 2021 at 7:08
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    Merriam Webster defines "coupist: one that attempts or supports a coup d'etat". This is not the same as "coup leader". News articles such as Greece not wanting Turkish coupists and coupistas in Mali and Sierra Leone. Perhaps more common after 1/6/2021's events. Still, I prefer rhyming "coupista" with "trumpista".
    – Krazy Glew
    Jan 7, 2021 at 7:22

Assuming that by coup d'état you mean the sudden, usually violent overthrow of a government outside of regular political processes, revolutionary or one of its synonyms (rebel, insurrectionist, etc.) would seem most likely. From Collins Dictionaries:


social studies a person who supports or takes part in a revolution


social studies a sudden and great change, esp. the violent change of a system of government

The main distinguishing characteristic of a coup seems to be that the group of revolutionaries is relatively small and may come from within the government, and that the (attempted) overthrow is very swift. English doesn't seem to have a specific way of distinguishing either a small or an internal group of revolutionaries, although I would say that some synonyms are less likely to fit those parameters.

Some examples:

In this satirical allegory, farm animals representing Bolshevik revolutionaries successfully execute a coup d'état (which they call 'The Rebellion') —first entry (Animal Farm) in Wikipedia's "List of fictional revolutions and coups"

A coup d'état is thus a revolution although it does not often result in a dislocation within the country as always happens in the case of a classic revolution. . . . [I]f the coup succeeds the constitution . . . is replaced with other laws promulgated by the revolutionaries. —Carlson Anyangwe, Revolutionary Overthrow of Constitutional Orders in Africa (also uses the phrase coup-makers)

A coup launched in Berlin by a group of radical socialist revolutionaries is brutally suppressed by right-wing paramilitary units from January 10 to January 15, 1919; the group’s leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, are murdered. —"This Day in History", The History Channel website

The term coup-makers, mentioned in the second example above, is sometimes used specifically for those who are most directly responsible for a coup attempt. This may be used more or less interchangeably with revolutionaries by some authors, but at least one source has argued that a distinction should be observed.

Coup leaders often proclaim themselves “revolutionaries,” but coups are not revolutions. . . . Revolutionaries seek fundamental social, economic, and political change; coup-makers may seek this, but they may act to prevent change or merely to gain the rewards of political office. —"Coup d’etat." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences

In practice, I believe the more general term is at least as common as any of the more specialized terms; however, it is extremely difficult to prove this, as the phrase "the revolutionaries" stands alone and only collocates with coup within the wider discussion making any automated corpus search difficult. However, coup-makers would be an excellent term to clarify the specific type of overthrow without a lot of context.

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    Which leads to the wonderfully ambiguous phrase, "the peasants are revolting"
    – Separatrix
    Dec 9, 2016 at 12:06
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    A 'revolutionary' is way too general for a leader or member of a coup. In fact, a coup is usually not revolutionary. Napoleon took power in a coup and no one would call him a revolutionary.
    – Mitch
    Dec 9, 2016 at 12:53
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    I have to say, this answer is just totally wrong. As Mitch explained. "revolutionary" is simply a category (like say "Dandy" or "Tall" or "Literate") which a coup-performer may belong to.
    – Fattie
    Dec 9, 2016 at 14:57
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    "it's very commonly used both popularly and by political scientists" give one example. (Sure, they may then use that descriptive adjective to mention the coup'er. But so what, you can choose an politically descriptive word - say "radical".)
    – Fattie
    Dec 9, 2016 at 14:58
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    @1006a 'revolutionary' is also used for non-coup leaders of revolutions. Washington and Lenin were leaders of revolutions, but they were not part of a coup. If the OP had asked for a word for the leader of a revolution, there I would totally accept 'revolutionary' as just right.
    – Mitch
    Dec 9, 2016 at 15:07

AN USURPER is an illegitimate or controversial claimant to power, often but not always in a monarchy. This may include a person who succeeds in establishing himself as a monarch without inheriting the throne or any other person exercising authority unconstitutionally.

Usurper is a very common word and very appropriate for the leader of a coup d'etat. It can also in the plural apply to a group or a movement, but seeing as all groups tend to have a leader, Usurper makes sense in the singular as the focus of the usurpation.

The term is very established and old and is a bit antiquated for modern precise use, it's pronunciation is not the same as Georgian english, as it has vague, romantic and literary drama connotations perhaps. The Times for example may chose another term because Usurper has existed since the middle ages, and was more frequently used previous to WW2, because it still has a royalist and imperial tone of times past. It is more appropriately used for coup leaders of previous centuries, where it fits perfectly. The most current term is Coup Leader, Leader of N faction, Ex General, Warlord, Insurrectionist, Recent Accessor to power, New leader, Coup Plotter, Revolutionary, which are mostly 2-3 syllable terms and highly practical.


Usurpation: The wrongful seizure of something by force, especially of sovereignty or other authority. Trespass onto another's property without permission. A taking or use without right.

  • 4
    As a side note, I would personally write it "a usurper" rather than "an usurper" because I pronounce usurper with a long "u" at the beginning (pronounced like "you"). If you instead pronounce it with a short "u" (like the "u" in "uber") then "an usurper" is correct.
    – Kevin
    Dec 9, 2016 at 18:22
  • That's cool, long u for usurper sounds more attuned. I pronounce it as a french word based on Oxford pronounciation, because i haven't heard it used in conversation, have only seen it in books. In Georgian and Elizabethan times it would have sounded different and probably sounded cool, the word sounds wrong in modern received english, sounds inarticulate and doesn't sound related to politics. Just that the word contains three times the sound er and only one heard consonant, and the emphasis on the middle syllable. it's a word that has been forgotten because of it's contemporary pronounciation. Dec 9, 2016 at 20:45
  • This is the best answer.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 11, 2016 at 4:34
  • Thanks! perhaps the term coup d'etat dates from the times when Britain and America were the most involved with neo colonialist attempts around the world, and wished to pretend it was someone else, by using a French word for it. Dec 12, 2016 at 12:23
  • I was thinking revolutionary for someone who attempts a coup, and usurper for someone who succeeds. Can this term apply to someone who doesn't actually succeed?
    – DCShannon
    Dec 12, 2016 at 16:49

an overthrower is a generic term for one who causes the downfall of a ruler.

King Charles's overthrower, Oliver Cromwell, was Lord Protector of the Commonwealth from 1653 to 1658.

overthrower - "one who brings about the downfall, destruction, or ending of another, especially by force or concerted action"

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    "Overthrower" only fits if the coup is successful.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 9, 2016 at 2:32
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    @HotLicks True. So does "coup d'état", which is called "attempted coup" otherwise. Then, "attempted overthrower" seems logical to me.
    – hvd
    Dec 9, 2016 at 9:48
  • usurper might be a better choice.
    – Chieron
    Dec 9, 2016 at 13:26


  1. a person who refuses allegiance to, resists, or rises in arms against the government or ruler of his or her country.


The rebels overthrew the government in a well-organised coup de état


Often "coup d'état" is shortened to just "coup". It is not common to see coup d'état in it's full form unless you are discussing a coup d'état itself.

Golpista is a good word. It is difficult to find a direct and meaningful translation for this.

"participant in a coup" would be the most literal and direct translation. However, this phrase is so generic that most people do not normally say this.

Every coup d'état has an ideology or methodology behind it. Generally you pick a either the ideology or the methodology to describe these participants.

If you describe participants based on ideology you could call them "militants" or "nationalists" or "anarchists" or "communists". The coup itself would then be a "military coup", or a "nationalist coup", or "anarchist coup" or a "communist coup."

If you describe the participants by methodology you could say they were "extremists" or "terrorists" or "pacifists". The coup itself would then be an "extremist coup" or "terrorist coup" or "pacifist coup".

In Spanish there are words for all of these things already: "militantes, nacionalistas, anarquistas, comunistas, extremistas, terroristas, pacifistas"

So for working English, just pick the kind of golpista they are.

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    Good point that golpista itself could be borrowed. After all, that's how we got caudillo and junta, too. The Oxford translation dictionary's suggestions are, at best, clumsy
    – choster
    Dec 9, 2016 at 3:40
  • It's worth noting that a lot of these terms depend on which side of the conflict you are on (Revolutionaries may describe themselves as pacifists while the state media may refer to them as terrorists, what might be called a "communist rebellion" in the US might be called a "socialist rebellion" in Europe, especially during the Cold War).
    – SGR
    Dec 9, 2016 at 12:01

Looking at the wikipedia page for the recent Turkish coup attempts, there isn't one agreed upon term, with different contributors/sources using different words. The most common one seems to be plotter though. Here's the frequency as of today:

Plotter(s)- 23

Rebels- 7

Coupist(s)- 7

Coup leader(s)- 4

Putschist(s)- 6

Conspirators- 2

  • Today, 13 December 2016, the word conspirators is on the front page of the English-language Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Selected anniversaries/December 13 (permanent link). The context is: "With Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie (pictured) out of the country, four conspirators staged a coup attempt and installed Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen as the new Emperor." Dec 13, 2016 at 15:21

Depending on the context, mutineer could also apply:

  • one that mutinies



  • forcible or passive resistance to lawful authority; especially : concerted revolt (as of a naval crew) against discipline or a superior officer



You may consider also subversive:

  • a person who adopts subversive principles or policies.

  • (Also, subversionary) tending or intending to subvert or overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system, especially a legally constituted government or a set of beliefs. noun


From Paraguay and the United States: Distant Allies:

  • In fact, the spokespeople of the dictatorship continued to insist that Cuban-oriented subversives were busily attempting to destabilize the country.!As the regime conducted several successful mopping up operations in the countryside between 1961 and 1963, it attempted to win favor with the new administration in Washington.
  • Subversive is quite a bit broader than the people who attempt a coup, however— journalists, or business elites, or the professoriat, or drug lords, or any number of other elements of society could act as subversives trying to undermine the government or other institutions without ever using or threatening force.
    – choster
    Dec 15, 2016 at 20:32

You might be interested in the term Junta

a military or political group that rules a country after taking power by force.

If the Junta is successful the leader might be called Generalissimo (e.g. Generalissimo Franco)


The Spanish word golpe is a very convenient word as it can have various meanings including coup d'état. The English equivalent should be "couper" or "coupist" and the word "coupist" is listed in some dictionaries.


One who takes part in a coup d'état

Collins Online Dictionary:

a leader or a participant in a coup d'état


one that attempts or supports a coup d'etat

This word is not broadly used in English and a participant in coup (or coup d'état) will be a more appropriate term.


Surprised no one mentioned Insurrectionist. Listed under insurrection as a related noun.

in·sur·rec·tion (ĭn′sə-rĕk′shən) n. The act or an instance of open revolt against civil authority or a constituted government.



It would depend on win/lose/draw. Win; Despot? Dictator? Emperor? Head Congressional Clown? No, wait, that would be here. Lose; Dead. Draw; Ambassador or Envoy to some place where many horrid things happen hourly.

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