• cult •
kêlt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A small religious sect of people considered eccentric or bizarre, usually led by an authoritarian person. 2. The idealization of one person by propagandistic means, as the cult of personality, formerly associated with Soviet leaders. 3. Any small group united by a love of or devotion to the eccentric, such as a film cult. 4. A community of religious ceremony or ritual.
Notes: This word has become fashionable among the majority of English speakers in light of the various groups that choose to behave differently from the majority. Since the media focus generally on the grotesque ones, like the People's Temple led by Jim Jones and the Branch Dravidians led by David Koresh, the term has taken on a pejorative pall in recent times. The adjectives for this word are cultic or cultist (which also serves as the personal noun), and the practice of forming cults is cultism.
In Play: Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, recently claimed that Mitt Romney's religion, Mormonism, is a cult. For this reason Lew Jury thought this word would be a topical Good Word: "Ally Louia is the center of a veritable cult whose members believe that chocolate can save the world." Most cults claim to be based on love and independence, which makes their pejorative reputation difficult to understand: "We have a huggy-kissy cult on a farm outside our city."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us, via French, from Latin cultus "care, labor; cultivation". The word originally meant "tended, cultivated", the past participle of colere "to till". The word originally referred to people who tilled land together. This led to the derivation of colonus "settler, cultivator", which English took as colony. It then moved on to "the totality of behavior patterns, beliefs, and institutions", i.e., culture. From there the meaning dwindled to that of cult. (Now let us thank Lew Jury, who has a small cult following here at alphaDictionary focusing on words.)