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  • Paul Anthony Jones

King Log

(n.) an inert or ineffectual leader

A toad on a log, as in Aesop’s fable of King Log

Should you at any point need a word for an utterly ineffectual person in a position of power (ahem...), then we have just the word for you. They’re a King Log.

That expression first popped up on Twitter way back in the summer of 2018. But as ineffectual leadership yet again appears to be the buzzword of the times, it popped back up in our mentions again this week.

As we explained back on Twitter last July, the expression King Log derives from one of Aesop’s fables, namely The Frogs who Desired a King, first put down in writing in the first century BC. According to the tale, some restless frogs in a pond were utterly so devoid of leadership that they beseeched Zeus to send them a king.

Hearing their request (but not taking too kindly to being hassled by a bunch of frogs), Zeus cast down a large wooden log that crashed into the pond, throwing water up everywhere, and terrifying all the frogs.

Once the pond had calmed, the frogs peeped above the water and saw that the great tumult they had feared had been caused by nothing more than a log—which, moreover, was now sat motionless, afloat and utterly inert, on the surface of their pond.

It’s from here that the expression King Log derives. But that’s far from the end of the story.

Seeing that their new leader was completely pointless, the frogs soon hopped on top of it and began mocking how useless and ineffectual their new “king” was. After a while, however, they grew restless yet again and asked Zeus once more to send them a leader.

In Aesop’s version of the story, Zeus responded this second time by casting a large water snake down into the pond. In later versions (including William Caxton’s English version, printed in the fifteenth century), he sent a heron. No matter its identity, this second “king” promptly set about gobbling up every frog in the pond.

Various conclusions have been drawn from this tale over the centuries, most of which pass serious commentary both on mob rule, and on the intricacies of political leadership. Some commentators explain that the fable is meant to warn that mobs will always seek to elect a leader, who can often turn out to be even worse than they are. Others claim the fable is meant to be a warning that change isn’t always for the better, and being content with the status quo can often prove the best course of action. Caxton, meanwhile, saw this as a warning of the fragility of freedom, and how electing the wrong leader can freedoms curtailed: “[For] he that hath liberty ought to keep it well,” he wrote way back in 1484, “for nothing is better than liberty.”

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