A Coup Lexicon

Reasonable people disagree on the definition and proper usage of the word “coup.” Inspired by a tweet this morning from Erik Meyersson, I thought I’d put together a lexicon to try to clear things up.

  • Coup d’etat: A sudden usurpation of state power by illegal or extra-constitutional means involving the use or threat of force (or, apparently, a new restaurant in Minneapolis).
  • Military coup: Same as above, with elements of state security forces as the usurpers.
  • Executive coup (a.k.a. autogolpe)In democracies, an abrupt change in rules or procedures by the incumbent chief executive that effectively concentrates power in his or her hands and short-circuits electoral competition. See: India in 1975, Peru in 1992, and Russia in 1993.
  • Judicial coup: A decision by an apparently partisan judiciary that removes an elected government from power. See: Egypt in 2012Thailand in 2008, and, according to those bumper stickers you still see in my neighborhood every once in a while, Bush v. Gore.
  • Parliamentary coup: The removal from office of a directly elected president by a legislature using questionable procedures for apparently partisan purposes. See: Paraguay in 2012 and, for a dog that growled but didn’t quite bark, the United States in 1999.
  • Merci beaucoup: (Fr.) Thank you very much.
  • Mercy bro coup: The successful extrication of a persistently adolescent and self-absorbed young man from an embarrassing situation, probably involving bad beer consumed ironically.
  • Coup de grace: (Fr.) The final blow or stroke that finishes off a sufferer or weakened foe.
  • Coup de grass: What happened in Uruguay a few weeks ago.

What have I missed? Please use the Comments to suggest additions or corrections.

Leave a comment


  1. Cameron Hudson

     /  January 12, 2014

    You missed my favorite: Putsch

    • Yes, thank you! I somehow came to use putsch to refer only to failed (military) coups, but a lot people use it as a synonym for coup d’etat.

      Speaking of which, I wonder how it came to pass that the French term stuck and the German didn’t. If anyone knows the backstory on this one, please chime in.

      • Gyre

         /  January 12, 2014

        A ‘coolness’ factor for lack of a better term? Or perhaps that an American reading a paper would think it looks to close to the word “push”?

  2. Darth Jeff

     /  January 12, 2014

    Self Coup is worth adding. Somewhat similar to Executive Coup, but not necessarily in a democracy. Iran in 2009 is a good example.

    • Thanks! I’ve always thought of self-coup as nothing more than a translated version of autogolpe, but your idea of using it for a broader class of power grabs by incumbents is intriguing.

  3. A palace coup- the king/queen is removed from the throne by brothers, sisters and the occasional meddling in-law e.g. maybe what happened in Qatar?

  4. SQ

     /  January 12, 2014

    This is just short of perfect! Work in a reference to “I Am The Walrus” and you’ll be all set.

  5. Erik M

     /  January 12, 2014

    Ok, here we go.
    1. Democratic coup (but I’m not sure they actually exist. Egypt 2013, fingers crossed? Not) http://www.harvardilj.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/HLI203.pdf
    2. Pronunciamento, alias spicy/Latino coup (made that last part up) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciamiento
    3. Soft, or post-modern coup, (Turkey 1997 and almost in 2007)
    4. Bro-modern coup or dost modern darbe, (Turkey today, one of my twitter followers made that up. I think it warrants at least one paper publishable in the AJPS)
    5. I’ve also heard a bunch of peeps talking about civic coups but it’s to late for me to find that now.

    Anyways, nice list.

    • Fantastic, thanks, Erik. Now I’m gonna need someone to explain to me what a “bro-modern coup” is. Or I’ll just have to wait and read that AJPS paper when it comes out in 2042 (if you submit now).

      • Erik M

         /  January 12, 2014

        A bro-modern coup is funnily translated term from Turkish “dost modern coup” (dost meaning friend), as coined by Erdoğan himself, I believe. It alludes to the current infighting between Erdoğan’s people and some followers of the Gülen movement in the judiciary and security establishment. The former crowd calls it a judicial coup, the latter a civilian coup. Personally, I’m ok with calling it a bro-modern coup. (If I ever do write something on bro-modern coup, I will send it you first :-))

  6. Daniel Solomon

     /  January 12, 2014

    Chicken coup: An uprising of poultry, and the fence that keeps them in–a paradox.

  7. Adam

     /  January 12, 2014

    Sultanistic coup – a subset of an executive coup, and the best examples are in Central Asia, where an executive increasingly institutes a cult of personality, legitimizing only their rule. I can fall apart when a leader dies, as there is no prevailing ideology beyond the cult though.

  8. Jon Golder

     /  January 12, 2014

    I’ve always liked Coup du Jour, which can be used to describe politics in much of Latin America pre 1990s.

  9. Maggie

     /  January 12, 2014

    Accidental coup (when it’s unclear if a coup was really the motive but either way it occurred- usually because President left as troops were approaching, Sierra Leone 1992, Gambia 1994)
    Palace coup (often used in military context to mean coup orchestrated within President’s inner circle or with support from those at the top, Mauritania 2008)

  10. Rutger

     /  January 13, 2014

    ECB-coup: when the European Central Bank isn’t satisfied with the actions of Italian and Greek governments

  11. Don’t forget about Coup d’œil (Stroke of the eye) from Clausewitz, “When all is said and done, it really is the commander’s coup d’œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them.”

  12. Paul B. Stares

     /  January 13, 2014

    Antigovernment Protestors Occupy Thai Capital

    Tens of thousands of protestors occupied parts of central Bangkok on Monday as they sought to shut down the Thai capital, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra prior to snap elections slated for February 2. Security forces maintained a low profile; clashes in previous protests had resulted in several deaths (Reuters).

    CFR’s Joshua Kurlantzick writes that Thailand is headed toward a coup.

  13. I guess “Coup d’éclat” could fit your list too 😉


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