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coup(ko͞o) [Fr.,=blow], among Native North Americans of the Plains culture, a war honor, awarded for striking an enemy in such a way that it was considered an extreme act of bravery. Generally, coups were awarded according to the degree of difficulty and danger involved; the most extreme, such as striking an armed enemy with the bare hand, counted highest. Killing an enemy, wounding him, scalping him, or stealing his horse or gun—all these were coups of value. Recital of the deeds was an important social function, and a warrior with many coups held a high status and was honored at feasts, ceremonials, and in the tribe. After warfare had ceased, coups became transferable property, passing from the old men to the younger, who needed coups to acquire warrior status in the tribe.
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coup (d'état)the sudden overthrow of state power by unconstitutional, usually violent, means. In contrast to a revolutionary change in power, in a coup there may be no intention to change the social and economic set-up radically. Instead, a change in the governing group may be all that is intended. In recent decades, many coups have been military (see MILITARY INTERVENTION IN POLITICS). See also REVOLUTION.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000