coup d'état

[ koo dey-tah; French koo dey-ta ]
/ ˌku deɪˈtɑ; French ku deɪˈta /
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noun, plural coups d'é·tat [koo dey-tahz; French koo dey-ta]. /ˌku deɪˈtɑz; French ku deɪˈta/.
a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.
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Origin of coup d'état

1640–50; <French: literally, stroke concerning the state
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


Why is coup d’état trending?

On January 6, 2021, interest in the term coup d’état increased sharply—corresponding with a 3039% increase in searches 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 term coup d’état to describe the events that occurred at the nation’s capitol.

The term coup d’état comes from French and literally means “stroke of state.” Due to its French origin, the final p in coup and the final t in état are not pronounced. The word coup is often used as a shortening of coup d’état.


Coup d’état vs. sedition vs. insurrection

Discussion of the events of January 6 also included other strong words in descriptions of 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, coup, and coup d’état 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 d'état in a sentence

  • We doubt if the victory of Manasses or Corinth were worth as much to us as the frustration of this grand coup d' etat.

    Daring and Suffering:|William Pittenger

British Dictionary definitions for coup d'état

coup d'état
/ (ˈkuː deɪˈtɑː, French ku deta) /

noun plural coups d'état (ˈkuːz deɪˈtɑː, French ku deta)
a sudden violent or illegal seizure of government

Word Origin for coup d'état

French, literally: stroke of state
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 d'état

coup d'état
[ (kooh day-tah) ]

A quick and decisive seizure of governmental power by a strong military or political group. In contrast to a revolution, a coup d'état, or coup, does not involve a mass uprising. Rather, in the typical coup, a small group of politicians or generals arrests the incumbent leaders, seizes the national radio and television services, and proclaims itself in power. Coup d'état is French for “stroke of the state” or “blow to the government.”

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.