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Is 'appeasement' a negative word?

English Language & Usage Asked by pierpaolo on December 14, 2020

I’m not English. What I want to know is whether ‘appeasement’ is generally felt negatively by British people. Thanks

2 Answers

I think this word is definitely negative because of its strong association with the period before WWII when Britain, under Neville Chamberlain's Conservative government was acquiescent towards the Nazi regime, in the hope of avoiding war. This policy became known as Appeasement.

[There is a parallel in my own culture: the 不抵抗政策 (no-confrontation policy) during the Republic of China, when we did little against the Japanese Invasion. It's called 绥靖政策 (lit. appeasement policy) in Chinese.]

Because of this association the word generally bears negative connotations.

Edit by WS2 This is already an excellent answer but I include below the OED entry which simply confirms the point that Jeremiah Hsu has made. And I was very interested to read that there was a similar word in Chinese, whose transformation belongs to the same era.

Prior to 1938 the word simply implied "to calm something down" - as will be evident from the examples given. It is now only ever used disparagingly - at least in Britain. Note especially how Churchill, the person at the centre of the word's denigration in the late 1930s, had used it in the 1920s.

  1. Freely used in political contexts in the 20th century, and since 1938 often used disparagingly with allusion to the attempts at conciliation by concession made by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, before the outbreak of war with Germany in 1939; by extension, any such policy of pacification by concession to an enemy.

1919 Gen. Smuts' Messages to Empire: Problem of Peace 14
In our policy of European settlement the appeasement of Germany..becomes one of cardinal importance. 1920 W. S. Churchill Let. 24 Mar. in World Crisis (1929) IV. xvii. 378 Here again I counsel prudence and appeasement. Try to secure a really representative Turkish governing authority, and come to terms with it. 1929 J. M. Keynes in Nation & Athenæum 9 Mar. 782/2 Apart from Russia, Mr. Churchill appears, in a degree to which public opinion has done much less than justice, as an ardent and persistent advocate of the policy of appeasement—appeasement in Germany, in Ireland, in Turkey. 1934 Ld. Lothian Let. in Times 4 May 15/5 A limitation of armaments by political appeasement. 1936 A. Eden in Hansard Commons 5th Ser. CCCX. 1446 I assure the House that it is the appeasement of Europe as a whole that we have constantly before us. 1937 W. K. Hancock Survey Brit. Commonw. Affairs I. 262 Equality and Appeasement, 1926–1936. 1938 Encycl. Brit. Bk. of Year 1938 194/1
Economic appeasement must precede any world-wide political appeasement. 1938 Times 3 Oct. 13/2 The policy of international appeasement must of course be pressed forward... There must be appeasement not only of the strong but of the weak... With the policy of appeasement must go the policy of preparation—preparation not so much for war as against war. 1939 Ann. Reg. 1938 10 One of the new Foreign Minister's first steps was to extend to Germany the methods of appeasement—as the Prime Minister was fond of calling them—which were now being tried with Italy. 1939 New Statesman 29 July 165/1
First, provided that there is a Russian pact, proposals that now smell of appeasement in the most dangerous sense at once become proper and, indeed, the only possible policy.

Answered by Jeremiah Hsu on December 14, 2020

As @Mitch says in the comments, if appeasement is used in a political context, it has a negative valence.

See the OED definition:

appeasement, n.

  1. Freely used in political contexts in the 20th century, and since 1938 often used disparagingly with allusion to the attempts at conciliation by concession made by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, before the outbreak of war with Germany in 1939; by extension, any such policy of pacification by concession to an enemy.

In current usage, it would be hard to escape this association.

Answered by De Novo on December 14, 2020

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