Tin-pot dictator

It occurred to me to wonder why the phrase tin-pot dictator is still in such recent use. I don’t think the word tin-pot does much modifier duty these days outside the field of tyranny.

The phrase came in to use in the 19th century, along with, well, cheap mass-produced tin pots. And while it’s a great phrase—I particularly like the contrast of dictator’s air of menace and authority with the shabby domesticity of the tin pot—I wouldn’t be altogether sad to see it replaced with some other indication of a would-be tyrant’s noisy, brittle, cruddy little ambition. Something perhaps more twenty-first century, or even twentieth.

Alternately, I suppose, I wouldn’t mind seeing other things described as tin-pot: tin-pot streaming services, tin-pot activism, tin-pot educational philosophy, tin-pot synergy, tin-pot crowdfunding site, virtual tin-pot reality. Some action star could be referred to as a tin-pot Stallone, or a brash young writer as a tin-pot Hemingway. I do think that song-lyrics have to be tin-pan, though.

But in fact very few people think of tin pots as noisy, brittle, cruddy replacements for the real thing, I think. Certain phrases just solidify and remain stuck for decades and decades. It’s just how language works, illogical kludge that it is.


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