[ koo ]
/ ku /
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noun, plural coups [kooz; French koo]. /kuz; French ku/.
a highly successful, unexpected stroke, act, or move; a clever action or accomplishment.
(among the Plains Indians of North America) a brave or reckless deed performed in battle by a single warrior, as touching or striking an enemy warrior without sustaining injury oneself.
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Idioms about coup

    count coup, (among Plains Indians of North America)
    1. to perform a coup.
    2. to recount or relate the coups one has performed.

Origin of coup

1640–50; <French: literally, blow, stroke, Old French colp<Late Latin colpus,Latin colaphus<Greek kólaphos

Other definitions for coup (2 of 2)

[ kohp, koop ]
/ koʊp, kup /

verb (used with or without object) Scot.
overturn; upset.

Origin of coup

1350–1400; Middle English coupe to pay for <Old Norse kaupa to buy, barter; cognate with Old English cēapian,German kaufen.See cheap
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


Why is coup trending?

On January 6, 2021, interest in the word coup spiked—corresponding with a 962% increase in search interest on Dictionary.com—after a mob of supporters of Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building on the day Congress was set to certify the electoral vote count to confirm Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. Some journalists, political analysts, and politicians used the word coup to describe the events that occurred at the nation’s capitol.

The word coup, in this context, is short for coup d’état, which literally means “stroke of state” in French. Due to its French origin, the final p is not pronounced, making the word sound identical to the word coo.

Coup vs. sedition vs. insurrection

Those discussing the events of January 6 also used other strong words to describe what happened, such as sedition, insurrection, and (domestic) terrorism. The terms coup and coup d’état narrowly refer to an illegal or forceful change of government, as opposed to an uprising in general. A coup may be attempted with the intention of removing a single political leader, rather than instituting an entirely new form of government, for example. Sedition refers to incitement or promotion of rebellion against the government, while insurrection refers to an active rebellion or uprising against the government. Despite the differences in their meanings, terms like sedition, insurrection, and coup are sometimes used in the discussion of the same events. For example, a coup may be the result of an insurrection inspired by sedition.

More broadly, terrorism involves the use of violence or threats of violence—especially against civilians—to achieve some political aim. Domestic terrorism specifically refers to acts of terrorism against one’s fellow citizens. By contrast, the word insurrection typically refers to acts that target the government, rather than civilians. However, some acts of insurrection may also be considered acts of terrorism.

Some discussing the events of January 6 described them as having the atmosphere of a banana republic, which refers to an authoritarian country known for exploiting its citizens for the benefit of wealthy elites and foreign corporations. (Use of the term is often criticized due to disparaging associations with Central American countries.)

How to use coup in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for coup (1 of 3)

/ (kuː) /

a brilliant and successful stroke or action
short for coup d'état

Word Origin for coup

C18: from French: blow, from Latin colaphus blow with the fist, from Greek kolaphos

British Dictionary definitions for coup (2 of 3)




to turn or fall over
a rubbish tip

Word Origin for coup

C15: perhaps identical with obsolete cope to strike; see cope 1

British Dictionary definitions for coup (3 of 3)

/ (kaʊp) /

Scot to barter; traffic; deal

Word Origin for coup

C14: from Old Norse kaupa to buy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for coup

[ (kooh) ]

In politics, an abbreviation for coup d'état.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.