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Word of the Week: 'dynasty'


In a new weekly feature, our wordsmiths take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘dynasty’


‘Dynasty’ – or more specifically its plural form, ‘dynasties’ – has found new relevance as the title of the latest tear-jerking BBC Earth series fronted by Sir David Attenborough.

The noun, which conjures up images of expansive, entrenched antiquity, gained classification as a ‘breakout’ term on Google Trends – a result of its whopping 5000% search increase since the programme’s launch.


‘Dynasty’ has been used in English since the 14th century, and has its roots in the Greek ‘dynasthai’, which means ‘to have power’ or ‘to be able’.

Traditionally, a dynasty is defined as a series of rulers or leaders who are all from the same powerful family. The oldest dynasty in the world is the Imperial House of Japan, which dates back to 660BC, but the more intriguing (read: gossip-worthy) ones of recent eras include the Kennedys, the Picassos and, of course, the Royal Family – at least according to Vanity Fair’s dedicated ‘Dynasties’ archive.

Ask most social media followers to name a dynastic line today, however, and the clan they namecheck will most likely be the Kardashians. Or maybe the Trumps. We’ll let you decide what that says about the times we live in.

A fight for survival

The premise of ‘Dynasties’ the wildlife show, aside from making telly-watching, Attenborough-loving Brits cry, is to show five of the world’s most celebrated, yet endangered, animals fight for their survival.

Both the vulnerability and the power of these animals is shown in equal measure. In his hushed, ‘grandfatherly’ tones, Sir David casually narrates the fate that awaits these beasts at the hands of climate change – and reiterates that their days may be numbered. (Now that they’re influencers, though, perhaps they could learn from Kim et al, and post daily Instagram videos featuring beauty tips. A few million followers and generous brand sponsors might at least buy them time).

Capturing extraordinary family dynamics and behaviour, one writer compares dramatic scenes in episode one, ‘Chimpanzee’, to the fall of the fictional House Stark in ‘Game of Thrones’.           

For others, the series is a linguistic (and in some ways thematic) link back to the iconic 1980s soap opera, ‘Dynasty’, which follows the trials and tribulations of two feuding oil-rich, shoulder-pad laden families. Who were armed, older readers will recall, with their own rather sharp-clawed survival tactics to rival that of any big cat. Meeeoow.