This is my first post so I hope I am not doing this wrong. Anyway, I feel like this word is on the tip of my tongue, yadda-yadda-yadda, ok, enough about me.

I am writing about the nature of power throughout history and I am looking for the word that best describes either (1) the human characteristic or gift of, or the talent or power to, be able to compel people to do their bidding under the auspices of a goal or purpose that is purported to be larger than themselves (“higher”) or (2) the name of such a person who possesses the aforementioned characteristics.

This of course brings up historical paradigms of religion, political movements, or even that inexplicable cult of personality, but words like charismatic, prophet, torch-bearer, visionary, mantle, etc... feel like they fall flat because they are not strong enough or the implications of reverence could either be beatific or simply empty praise. Plus, these are tired words.

On the other hand, words like demogague, master, supremo are blunt and imply either a clearly a negative power or one that exists in a system of oprression or class by the nature of the title itself. Furthermore, they really don’t necessarily convey that the person holding this title posses this property or is just a pretender. The word I seek is about the real thing, because results matter.

It’s a word to describe the powers of (mostly) men throughout history. Some clear examples of dead (or possibly undead) people, you have Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Jim Jones, and of course legions of legendary military commanders both the winners and losers, so obviously we are talking the gamut of what could be considered “good” or “evil”, “successful” or “failures”. However, this word transcends value judgements because the property does not beget the goals of its possessor. It just “is”. It is that wonderful or terrible quality that could compel a person to acts of great self-sacrifice, duty, cruelty, or insanity. Or to invade Poland.

I hope that someone reading this is thinking “oh, you mean [BLURGH]” and I will just smack the side of my skull and say “Yes! Why couldn’t I remember that?” Or I might be dreaming and there simply is not a lexical handle for what I am thinking of. I am fairly certain this property exists based on plenty of evidence, so there has to be a word for it, right?

One space donut to the person who can think of it. Thanks!


My initial thought was 'charismatic'. Then you said you'd already dismissed that. I suggest you use thesaurus.com. Start with something close, then click on anything that feels closer to get synonyms of that. Etcetera.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Good as a comment, but poor as an answer. Why not give greater support to "charismatic", and explain why that word fits, if you think it does. Otherwise just telling someone to use a thesaurus comes off as being flippant. – Mari-Lou A Jan 20 '18 at 12:12
  • 'Charismatic' is fair suggestion, especially considering my diminutive "Or just to make them get their dry cleaning" sentence fragment. I am in fact looking for something with a little more chutzpah though. Any thoughtful person will get your dry cleaning if you ask them nicely. Getting someone to invade Poland does require a bit more audacity. Thanks for your input @Ross. That was actually helpful. – Darf Nader Jan 20 '18 at 22:12
  • And thanks @Mari-LouA for "keeping it real", whatever the etymology of that expression is. – Darf Nader Jan 20 '18 at 22:13
  • I thought 'charismatic' as well. Because it implies the ability to get others to follow - whether for good or bad reasons. If the writer said 'charismatic leaders', which would strengthen 'charismatic' - he could then go on to explain how different ones have variously got people to follow them - for good or bad reasons. – Jelila Jan 21 '18 at 6:24
  • I think Ross is right, even if that should have been a Comment. – Robbie Goodwin Jan 28 '18 at 17:45

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.