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conspiracy, n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/kənˈspɪrəsi/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/kənˈspɪrᵻsi/
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Etymology: < Latin conspīrātio conspiration n., with substitution of the ending -acy suffix. A single example of conspiratie in 16th cent. French is given by Godefroy.

 a. The action of conspiring; combination of persons for an evil or unlawful purpose.

c1386   G. Chaucer Monk's Tale 621   Brutus and Cassius..Ful prively hath made conspiracie Agains this Julius in subtil wise.
1389   in J. T. Smith & L. T. Smith Eng. Gilds (1870) 5   Enpresoned falslich..by fals conspiracie.
1602   J. Marston Antonios Reuenge v. i. sig. I2v   Made a partner in conspiracie.
a1616   W. Shakespeare Tempest (1623) ii. i. 306   Open-ey'd Conspiracie His time doth take.  View more context for this quotation
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost ii. 751   Combin'd In bold conspiracy against Heav'ns King.  View more context for this quotation
a1832   J. Bentham Justice & Codif. Petit. in Wks. (1843) V. 485   In the very import of the word conspiracy is therefore included the conspiracy to do a bad thing.
1841   R. W. Emerson Self-reliance in Ess. 1st Ser. (London ed.) 50   Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.

c1386—1841(Hide quotations)

1863   H. Cox Inst. Eng. Govt. i. xi. 275   The crime of conspiracy consists in the agreement of two or more persons to do an illegal act, or to do a lawful act by unlawful means.

1863—1863(Hide quotations)


 a. (with a and plural) A combination of persons for an evil or unlawful purpose; an agreement between two or more persons to do something criminal, illegal, or reprehensible (especially in relation to treason, sedition, or murder); a plot. Also in conspiracy of silence.

c1386   G. Chaucer Doctor's Tale 149   Whan schapen was al this conspiracye Fro poynt to poynt.
a1513   R. Fabyan New Cronycles Eng. & Fraunce (1516) I. lxxxvi. f. xxxiiv   Hauynge knowlege of the sayde conspiracy.
1553   R. Eden tr. S. Münster Treat. Newe India sig. Jvjv   Fearing greater deceytes and conspiracies.
1632   in S. R. Gardiner Rep. Cases Star Chamber & High Comm. (1886) 170   I hould here is a conspiracie by Travers and Frost and his daughter.
1702   Clarendon's Hist. Rebellion I. ii. 129   In all Conspiracies there must be great secrecy.
1781   E. Gibbon Decline & Fall II. 81   A secret conspiracy had been formed against his person and government.
1839   G. P. R. James Louis XIV I. 105   Rumours of a conspiracy became general.
1865   J. S. Mill Auguste Comte 199   M. Comte used to reproach his early English admirers with maintaining the ‘conspiracy of silence’ concerning his later performances.
1870   Gentleman's Mag. New Ser. 5 331   Compel them, if they must divert themselves with a species of amateur conspiracy, to enter into a conspiracy of silence.
1885   Pall Mall Gaz. 6 July 1   No longer will good men be able with easy conscience to join in that indignant ‘Hush!’ by which the evil-doers have hitherto silenced every attempt to make articulate the smothered wail that rises unceasing from the woeful under-world. There is now an end to that conspiracy of silence.
1885   Pall Mall Gaz. 10 July 1/1   The absurd conspiracy of silence which is making our contemporaries so supremely ludicrous.
1885   Church Reformer July 146/1   When such work as the Pall Mall has done is treated by the ordinary press with a conspiracy of silence, then it becomes our duty..to thank that paper for its outspoken boldness.
1931   V. J. McGill Schopenhauer ix. 303   Their ‘conspiracy of silence’ had at last proved ineffective.
1944   G. B. Shaw Everybody's Polit. What's What? xxiv. 223   The conspiracy of silence about the blunders and failures of medicine.
1965   Times Lit. Suppl. 27 May 437/3   It semed perfectly correct to me when I read the article in question, although I find that English grammars seem to maintain a conspiracy of silence on the subject.

c1386—1965(Hide quotations)


b. A body or band of conspirators. Obsolete.

1555   R. Eden tr. Peter Martyr of Angleria Decades of Newe Worlde ii. i. f. 53   The captayne of this conspiracie was slayne.
1571   A. Golding tr. J. Calvin Psalmes of Dauid with Comm. (lxiv. 2)   Conspiracie..may bee taken as well for a companye that consult about mischeef, as for the mischeef itself they have devysed.
1600   P. Holland tr. Livy Rom. Hist. vii. xli. 279   Urged by those of the conspiracie [L. ab conjuratis].

1555—1600(Hide quotations)


 3. figurative. Union or combination (of persons or things) for one end or purpose; harmonious action or effort; = conspiration n. 3   (In a good or neutral sense.) Obsolete or archaic.

a1538   T. Starkey Dial. Pole & Lupset (1989) 8   Thys cyvyle lyfe was..a conspyracy in honesty & vertue.
a1586   Sir P. Sidney Arcadia (1593) iii. sig. Ii3v   So is the conspiracie of her seuerall graces held best together to make one perfect figure of beawtie.
a1677   I. Barrow Serm. Several Occasions (1678) 276   There will be a conspiracy and faithfull correspondence between our mind, and our tongue.
1691   J. Norris Pract. Disc. Divine Subj. 229   To discern this Harmony and beautiful conspiracy of things.
1847   R. W. Emerson Ode to Beauty in Wks. (1906) I. 450   All that's good and great with thee Works in close conspiracy.

a1538—1847(Hide quotations)


Draft additions  1997

 4. Compounds.

  conspiracy theory   n. the theory that an event or phenomenon occurs as a result of a conspiracy between interested parties; spec. a belief that some covert but influential agency (typically political in motivation and oppressive in intent) is responsible for an unexplained event.

1909   Amer. Hist. Rev. 14 836   The claim that Atchison was the originator of the repeal may be termed a recrudescence of the conspiracy theory first asserted by Colonel John A. Parker of Virginia in 1880.
1952   K. R. Popper Open Society (ed. 2) II. xiv. 94   I call it the ‘conspiracy theory of society’. It is the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon.
1964   Listener 24 Sept. 471/3   His ‘vulgar economic realities’ are the cloak for a conspiracy-theory, and he is disappointed that I don't subscribe to it.
1987   W. Greider Secrets of Temple i. ii. 52   From the beginning, the Federal Reserve was implicated in nativist conspiracy theories.

1909—1987(Hide quotations)


  conspiracy theorist   n.

1964   New Statesman 1 May 694/2   Conspiracy theorists will be disappointed by the absence of a dogmatic introduction.
1975   N.Y. Times 12 May 10/4   Conspiracy theorists contend that two of the men have strong resemblances to E. Howard Hunt Jr. and Frank A. Sturgis, convicted in the Watergate break-in.
1990   Times Educ. Suppl. 7 Dec. 5/1   Conspiracy theorists see the invisible hand of the Department of Education and Science behind the emergence of Walter Ulrich as secretary of the National Association of Governors and Managers.

1964—1990(Hide quotations)


This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1893; most recently modified version published online March 2023).

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